Khumbulani Lembede of Mandela Park in Mariannhill said at about 5am he was in a room he shared with his wife, assessing the downpour to see whether it was possible to drive to work. In front of his eyes, horror unfolded.
“I just saw a ball of mud rolling down and it swept my car away, a second later, a two-room house shared by my children and grandchild just disappeared into what seemed to be a sinkhole.”
The two-room house broke apart and pieces of rubble were found metres downstream.
His car was swept a distance of about half a kilometre away, and was only blocked by a railway line retainer wall.
Unconfirmed reports from community members claimed that as the car was being swept away, it knocked down and dragged a woman who was on her way to work.
“My mind first went blank and I thought my children had died. I rushed to the site. I started sinking in the mud but managed to jump out. My wife was crying, saying her children are dead.”
He said he heard the screams of his children, one child was pushed against a tree, another was stuck in the mud and the third one was buried under the rubble. He managed to pull all of them to safety.
“My daughter, who has a one-month old baby, was swept away with her baby in her arms. She managed to hold on to the baby and when I got to her, she was still holding on to the baby,” said Lembede.
The children were rushed to hospital.
“We lost everything, at this moment we do not even have food to eat,” he said.
A relative said Lembede’s wife almost threw herself into the raging floods.
“She was screaming saying she wanted to ‘go’ with her children. I managed to hold her back.”
Community members said the damage could have been avoided if a storm drain releasing water directly in the path of the houses had been blocked as they had requested.
“It has caused damage before and we warned that it will cause an even bigger tragedy if it was not attended to,” said one community member.
The storm also caused extensive damage to infrastructure, as one of the access roads was washed away. In New Town informal settlement, a short distance from Mandela Park, two shacks were washed away and others were submerged in water when the Umhlatuzana River burst its banks.
“I was woken up by screams for help around 2am. I could not go there myself. I saw children running trying to save bedding, and I saw a fridge just floating away in the river,” said a resident.
Another resident said some of the victims had invited trouble by building too close to the river banks.
Thembikosi Ntinga of Abahlali BaseMjondolo in Ekukhanyeni area, close to New City, said three people had tried to cross the Umhlatuzana River and were swept away, two survived and the fate of the third person is unknown.
“One of the three people was rescued by the community hanging from a tree. So far 27 houses have been damaged, five houses and a car were submerged in water,” he said.