The entrance to Gianni’s Ristorante, which was damaged by a sudden storm that hit the Ballito beachfront on Thursday night. Motshwari Mofokeng African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - A devastating storm which hit KwaZulu- Natal on Thursday night left a trail of destruction - wreaking havoc on the holiday town of Ballito and then killing 13 congregants when a church building collapsed in Dlangubo near Richards Bay.

Yesterday provincial police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said the 12 women and one boy had gone to sleep after a service when the massive wind and heavy rains caused the church walls to collapse.

The Police Search and Rescue Unit remained on the scene yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Ballito area was without power for most of the day as holidaymakers continued to pour into the province for the Easter holiday weekend.

The popular beachfront area was hardest hit during the storm which happened between 8pm and 9pm and created chaos in most restaurants, many of which were filled with holidaymakers and locals out for the start of the holiday weekend.

IPSS Medical Rescue said it treated 22 people for injuries.

There were many complaints of flooding, with some belongings found 200m away because of the force of the wind.

Owner of Gianni’s Ristorante, John Coburn, said: “We closed all the doors and windows. There was this serious wind and it was pouring rain. Then the windows blew in. I’ve been a resident in Ballito for 28 years and I’ve never seen a storm like it.”

He and his staff had moved their patrons into the kitchen and offices. The restaurant’s roof blew off, with debris flying to an adjacent restaurant and around a car park.

Ocean Basket’s manager, Jason Powell, said the restaurant’s glass door was blown out and they had to stop patrons from running out the back door into the car park because of flying debris.

Nikos Greek manager Tom Brassey said their restaurant was flooded, with pieces of roofing from Gianni’s landing on his deck.

Staff at both restaurants spent the night cleaning and the establishments were kept up and running with generators.

Powell said: “This was pretty devastating, but we are up and running.” Brassey added: “We’ve got to keep going.”

Across the road at Concha Bakery, owner Diego Barendse said they were holding a salsa dance evening when the storm hit.

“It was insane. There was hail the size of golf balls. Trees and street lights came down, with flooding taking place in many basements of restaurants. I’ve never seen a storm as quick and as aggressive as that, leaving such destruction and mayhem in its wake.”

Concha’s manager, Sean Judge, said: “We quickly shut the doors and furniture was flying all over the place outside, but we continued dancing in the storm. All the restaurants will have laid out massive costs for supplies for this Easter weekend and we are still open and serving.”

Ines van Schalkwyk, of Cyberview Letting, said 80% of their upcountry visitors arrived on Thursday. “Many of them sat in the queue for two hours at Tongaat toll plaza and then had the storm last night. There were chairs hitting the doors with roofs and tiles coming off. It was a mini-disaster, but our municipality is on the ball and we’re up and running today.”

Johannesburg visitor Desi Shan Subramoney said: “I was not sure how to react. The storm happened and then it was suddenly over.” 

Maryke de Kock, of Limpopo, said the most frightening thing about the storm had been the gale force wind accompanied by heavy rain, but after that “it was a beautiful electrical storm over the ocean, a real lightning show”.

Yesterday afternoon, KwaDakuza municipality executive director for electrical engineering services, Sibusiso Jali, said the power outage was caused by an Eskom structure being blown over by the wind. Technicians worked around the clock and power to most affected areas had been restored by yesterday afternoon.

The SA Weather Service’s Stacey Colborn said a severe storm weather warning had been issued at about 7pm on Thursday. “The storm moved along the coast from south to north and then went out to sea,” said Colborn. 

This weekend’s weather prediction includes isolated severe storms over northern parts of KZN. Cloudy weather is expected late today, with rain expected tomorrow and Monday.

Independent On Saturday