PORT ELIZABETH - Bitou Municipality in the southern Cape has made an urgent application for disaster funding after fires gutted a total of 72 homes and and led to the death of an elderly man in the Qolweni informal settlement.

The application for disaster funding to the national department of Human Settlements comes after the informal dwellings burnt down between April and May. 

In a statement on Tuesday, the municipality said the latest incident relates to a fire that started on Sunday evening in the informal settlement of Qolweni. "Twenty five structures either burnt down completely or partially, affecting 74 individuals, which includes 31 children, representing 25 families. Sadly, one fatality, of an elderly gentleman, occurred during the fire and the Plettenberg SAPS has opened a docket of unnatural death," said municipal spokesperson Manfred van Rooyen. 

According to the fire department, the exact cause of the fire is not yet determined, but an investigation will continue and details will be released, said Van Rooyen. 

He added that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), along with the Bitou Municipality started to distribute blankets, mattresses and food parcels to the affected victims. 

"The housing section of Bitou has indicated that they currently face an almost R600 000 backlog in funding to assist affected fire victims with building materials. This backlog will hopefully be addressed if the disaster funding application is approved by the national department of Human Settlements. Bitou municipality, along with Eskom will determine the extent of the damage to electrical and other municipal infrastructure and will, as funding becomes available, replace the damaged infrastructure." 

Mayor Msimboti Lobese offered his condolences to the family and friends of the deceased and has committed to work with the Department of Home Affairs to assist victims to obtain identity documents and birth certificates on an expedited basis. Lobese will also drive a campaign to assist learners to obtain school uniforms. 

African News Agency/ANA