Durban - Dozens of families in KwaZulu-Natal are mourning after flash floods ripped through homes and caused mudslides leaving death and destruction in their wake.
Durban mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said the region has suffered an unprecedented amount of damage to infrastructure through landslides, flooding and washaways overnight.
More than 45 deaths were reported on Tuesday by the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta).
The Bonela Ratepayers Association reported that three people, a mother and her two daughters died when an embankment collapsed on their home.
In Asherville, volunteers and search-and-rescue personnel waded through thick mud to recover the bodies of four people trapped inside a home when an embankment also collapsed onto their home. The victims were asleep when the incidents occurred. Both houses were totally demolished.
Kaunda said the city’s emergency personnel were working around the clock to restore services as soon as possible.
He said numerous areas suffered water and electricity outages caused by loss or damage to infrastructure. There were several major high voltage substations that flooded and were inaccessible.
He said crews would be working in shifts until the high voltage supplies were restored. Some substations would need to be rebuilt and this may cause extended delays.
Flooded healthcare facilities in the eThekwini region were expected to begin mop-up operations on Wednesday.
Kaunda said Durban was in “a state of disaster” and said teams had begun working to restore electricity and water supply to areas affected.
DA MPL Martin Meyer said the situation this week was worsened by a failure to keep stormwater drains cleared.
“We continue to assess the damage and a full report will be given in due course. The storm targeted all parts of the province. One of the fundamental factors in the incidents is as a result of landslides and had nothing to do with the drainage system,” Kaunda said.
In Hammarsdale, a mudslide that slammed into a home claimed the lives of five people. Cindy Jileka wept as she explained how she witnessed rescue teams pull out her two children Akhile,13, and Zekhethelo,11, from under the “soil”.
Her sister Bonakele Jileka and her two children Yenzokuhle,9, and Elimiyo, 2, Jileka also lost their lives.
“When I arrived they had taken out my sister's children and my sister from the house. I thought maybe my children were going to be taken out alive but it was not the case.”
In Pinetown, Tracey Govender said there was severe damage to her family’s property above road level.
“The retaining wall and driveway collapsed onto the road.
“The neighbour's yard flooded and the force of water eroded our driveway.
“Our vehicles are stuck in the yard.
“We are awaiting assessors to check the state of damage.
“The neighbours’ two cars slid onto the road in the mudslide.’’
A police constable was killed when the property she, her son and roommates were in collapsed due to heavy rains and debris on Lotus Road in Springfield.
Meyer said while disaster management in the province was on high alert, it was regrettably no secret that many of KZN’s municipalities had limited resources and disaster management in many towns were not up to the challenge.
“Given the current conditions, the DA urges the premier to recommend to the national disaster centre that KZN be declared a disaster zone,” Meyer said.
He said declaring KZN as a disaster zone would allow for, among others:
• A centralised disaster management system, with SAPS, Metro and other emergency services working from a centralised point to ensure better coordination on the ground
• The immediate release of funding, not only for the extensive repair work that is going to be needed, but also to assist those citizens who require emergency relief
• The president to deploy the South African National Defence Force and other national agencies to assist.
• Assistance to be requested from other provinces when it comes to emergency services or other areas that need help.
“There can be little doubt that the situation this week has been worsened by poor service delivery in many municipalities. This includes the failure to keep stormwater drains cleared, maintain roads and even ensure proper street lighting to help drivers in these difficult conditions,” Meyer said.
Gift of the Givers spokesperson Imtiaz Sooliman said teams are busy with on site assessments identifying areas of severe damage.
“With all our troubles, frictions and challenges this is indeed an incredible country where the spirit of Ubuntu always takes centre stage and reigns supreme,” he said.
“The informal settlements, houses in low lying locations and the non-insured are dependent on a compassionate nation to assist them in their hour of distress,” he added.
The beaches and pools were closed until further notice due to hazardous conditions.
The city called on the public to postpone any burials until such time that the cemeteries were able to conduct these again.
According to a statement from Vodacom, the rains had impacted network infrastructure in KZN including over 400 towers, largely due to disruptions to electricity supply.
As a result, certain customers in a number of coastal areas – from Ballito in the north to Amanzimtoti in the south experienced intermittent mobile services.
Additionally, some fibre customers were being impacted because of waterlogged fibre ducts.
“Efforts to restore sites are being hampered by severe damage to roads and certain facilities not being accessible due to the risk of electric shocks,” Vodacom stated.
The South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (Sanral) said that the torrential rains resulted in the closure of access to the Durban Port via road.
Sanral eastern region design and construction manager Ravi Ronny said: “Bayhead Road, which provides access to the port, is closed due to heavy rains and flooding. Engineers are on the ground assessing the situation and providing guidance on mobility around the network.”
Already on Tuesday relief was being rolled out to displaced communities by the provincial government.