Johannesburg - Some Vaal residents were on Tuesday counting the losses from a devastating tornado that uprooted luxury holiday homes and displaced more than 1100 informal settlement dwellers on Monday evening.
Boats were swept out of the Vaal River, rooftops of homes were blown off and shacks were sent flying in the scary few minutes that left a trail of destruction.
Reliving the night of horror, Mimi Nkutha said that when she realised that she could not prevent the wind from blowing her tiny shack away, she threw her two-year-old niece in a cupboard.
She then lifted her skirt and told her three children and other nieces to take cover.
Nkutha and her family, from the Mamello informal settlement, were among those left homeless.
“I just wanted to protect them. I told myself that I would rather be the one who dies than them,” the shaken 46-year-old said.
Midvaal mayor Bongani Baloyi said 50 people were injured, more than 550 homes damaged and more than 1100 people displaced following the storm.
Recalling the two- to three-minute tornado encounter, Nkutha said: “I have never seen anything like this. Strong winds just started blowing, followed by a hail storm.
“There was no way I could save my shack, so I took my little niece, Owethu, and put her in the food cupboard. I then lifted my skirt and told the other children in the house to hide.”
Nkutha said that when they looked outside the window, they saw shacks “flying”.
“Shacks, caravans, stoves, fridges and washing machines were flying. I was so scared because I did not know where these things were going to fall. I am just grateful that no one died.
“It would have been worse if people had died. We could not sleep, and sat around in the cold, covering ourselves with wet blankets. It was horrible,” Nkutha said.
The local police station, several luxury homes near the Vaal Dam, and a church were damaged. Power lines and the water supply were also hit.
Metres from Nkutha’s shack, Selina Mthiyane, a mother of six children aged between eight and 18, recalled how frightened she had been as she had never seen a tornado before.
“The only thing I could save was my bed. My other belongings are buried under the rubble. My children and I slept in a neighbour’s shack,” she said.
When The Star team arrived in the area on Tuesday morning, residents were picking up pieces of what remained of their lives.
Some queued for water from a municipal truck with children playing and chasing each other, oblivious to the disastrous situation.
“This is a disaster,” said Baloyi, who had been in the area since 8am.
A few kilometres away from the settlement, Braam Willems was trying to remove furniture from a home which he had owned for 10 years.
“This is our holiday home. No one was here at the time. My son was supposed to arrive on Monday but he decided not to come. We were all planning to arrive next week.
“I was shocked when I got a call from my neighbour telling me about the tornado and that my house was badly damaged.
"I could not come yesterday (on Tuesday) because there was no electricity. The top of the house was completely blown away,” Willems said.
He said the top part of his wooden house was two-and-a-half bedrooms, a full bathroom and kitchen. The house was insured.
“We were really looking forward to spending our holiday here,” he said.
A mattress from the Willems family house landed on Hennie du Preez’s weekend home.
“This mattress was blown two plots away from here. We currently do not have water or electricity.
Aerial photos taken for Storm Report SA of the Tornado damage in Vaal Marina by Brett Powell. Thanx Brett!! pic.twitter.com/W21gXpTGae
Vaal Marina - some of the damage from todays massive storm south of Johannesburg pic.twitter.com/eCpn8nPkUb
"Part of the roof is in my house, and the fence and windows were damaged,” Du Preez said.
Speaking at a stakeholders briefing session, Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s adviser, Mxolisi Xayiya, said: “I am seeing a lot of boats being removed (from the area). The festive season economy is affected.
“It is a good season, let’s get going. Let’s run,” Xayiya said.
Acting police station commander Warrant Officer Pieter Viljoen said that only the police station’s roof had been damaged by the tornado.
“We are still effective. We are afraid of looting but we have officers from Sedibeng coming to assist us to ensure that we keep properties safe. All units are being made available.
“There are also regular air-wing patrols. We will be on standby 24 hours,” Viljoen said.
Baloyi said municipal officials, Gauteng Disaster Management Services, the Red Ants and Red Cross, among other organisations, were assisting with rebuilding the shacks.
“In case we cannot rebuild all the shacks, tents will be provided to people in a form of temporary relief.
"We are prioritising restoring power supply, because without it we will not be able to restore water supply to those who have been affected,” he added.
Gauteng MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Human Settlements Paul Mashatile, on Tuesday, assured residents affected that government would work together to provide them with humanitarian relief.
“The swift response by disaster management and [emergency management services] EMS personnel, coupled with the interventions and aid assistance by various [non-governmental
His department said that the Gauteng disaster Management and the Midvaal municipality were working in the Mamello informal settlement, Dennisville Township
The Department of Human Settlements was about to start with the construction of 200 houses which will be complemented by the first quarter of 2018.
Mashatile said the 200 houses would accommodate most of the qualifying beneficiaries in the area and those who do not qualify for RDP houses, will benefit from various rental social houses that are within mega projects that the department is rolling out in the Sedibeng region.
Mashatile said he has also tasked the disaster management team
The Star and African News Agency/ANA