838 06.03.2014 A mentally-ill 25 year old Bheki Khumalo, who was rescued by the police diving unit at Sand river in Hazyview, after he had spent a night under the bridge due to heavy rains, receives medication. Picture: Itumeleng English

Maputo - Torrential rains in southern Mozambique and South Africa on Tuesday and Wednesday have caused a major flood on the Incomati River in Mozambique.

Briefing the Mozambican parliament on Thursday, the Minister of State Administration, Carmelita Namashulua, warned that the current flood was not far short of the enormous flood wave that struck the Incomati Valley in 2000.

At Ressano Garcia, on the border with South Africa, the river was measured at 10.4m on Wednesday morning – more than double the flood alert level of 5m. Namashulua said this was much higher than the last flood on the Incomati, in 2011, when the river reached 6.83m.

In 2000, the year of the worst floods in independent Mozambique’s history, the Incomati reached 10.56m. It is now just 17cm short of that record, and the authorities fear that, since more rain is forecast, the current flood could exceed the levels of 2000.

The Incomati takes a long and meandering path through southern Mozambique before it reaches the sea about 30km north of Maputo. It will take two or three days for the flood surge to travel that distance.

In about 48 hours, the flood would reach Manhica district, said Namashulua. When that happens, it would sweep across the country’s main north-south highway. That would, almost certainly, as with previous floods, cut all overland traffic between Maputo and the centre and north of the country.

The estimate of the number of people at risk in the Incomati Valley is 6 200. Namashulua said 15 Local Disaster Risk Management Committees were working in the valley, warning people to leave dangerous areas and seek temporary refuge on higher ground.

The government’s National Civil Protection Unit has stationed six boats along the river for search and rescue operations.

The deluge on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning also brought misery to low-lying neighbourhoods of Maputo and Matola. Homes were inundated, and their residents spoke of sleeping on top of tables.

They bitterly complained that for years they had asked the Maputo municipal council to dig a drainage ditch. Their houses are flooded every rainy season. - Independent Foreign Service

The Star