Festive season storms cause mayhem, kill 31

Emergency services members attempting to rescue people trapped in a vehicle in the middle of a fast flowing Umgeni River in Durban.

Two people were rescued from a vehicle washed down the uMngeni River while attempting to cross a low-lying bridge in KwaDabeka, Durban. Picture: IPSS Search and Rescue

Published Jan 4, 2024

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Heavy rains and thunderstorms during the festive season left a trail of death and destruction in KwaZulu-Natal according to the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), with the official death toll reaching 31.

Provincial Cogta spokesperson Siboniso Mngadi said the death toll since October due to weather-related events was 40.

On Wednesday, the department said that three people who went missing in the province last month were still unaccounted for.

Cogta MEC Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi said that in the latest incidents, a man was struck by lightning in Eshowe on

New Year’s Eve, while a 64-year-old drowned while swimming at the beach on the South Coast.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to all the affected families who have tragically lost their loved ones during a time when many were enjoying and reuniting for the festive season.

“The heavy rains have also left a trail of destruction, affecting households, businesses and public infrastructure such as schools, roads and bridges,” she said.

The MEC said as the department’s team continued to assess the situation on the ground while providing disaster relief to affected families, preliminary reports indicate that more than 600 households were affected, with over 140 dwellings completely destroyed.

uThukela District was the most affected, with 23 fatalities recorded as a result of the floods that hit Ladysmith on Christmas Eve and damaged more than 100 households.

Sithole-Moloi said the uMgungundlovu District saw more than 200 homes damaged and two deaths, while one person remains missing after a car was swept away in the Msunduzi River in Pietermaritzburg.

Msunduzi Local Municipality, which falls within the district, said that the heavy rains had resulted in isolated incidents of damaged houses in 10 wards.

Damage assessments were still under way with the ongoing rain hampering these efforts.

The department said in the King Cetshwayo District, more than 40 households were damaged by the strong winds and several businesses within Eshowe Industrial were destroyed, while uMzinyathi District also suffered with over 100 homes affected and one fatality.

It said in total more than 2 000 people have been affected and 21 have been left homeless.

“As the search and rescue operations for those still missing continue, we appeal to individuals who may have loved ones missing as a result of heavy rains to report it urgently. We have urged all our municipalities to work with our disaster teams to ensure that every ward is assessed as we seek to establish the cost of these damages.”

On Tuesday two people were rescued after the vehicle they were travelling in was washed down the uMngeni River in KwaDabeka while they were attempting to cross the river on a low-lying bridge.

The “daring” rescue mission was conducted by IPSS Search and Rescue, along with START Rescue, the National Sea Rescue Institute, Metro police search and rescue, and Durban Central K9 search and rescue.

IPSS spokesperson Dylan Meyrick said when emergency services arrived at the scene, it was established that the vehicle with two occupants had been washed about 500m downriver from where the crossing was attempted.

“A lengthy water rescue was conducted, which extended over a number of hours due to the complexity of the rope system required.

“Rescue attempts were hampered by fading light and the fast-flowing water,” he said.

Meyrick said the two occupants were successfully retrieved from the vehicle.

“There are unconfirmed reports of a bystander that was washed away while attempting to rescue the occupants prior to the arrival of rescuers,” he said.

The department on Wednesday warned that rains are expected to continue, with alert level 2 thunderstorms issued for various areas in KZN.

The Mercury