A pipe supplying huge volumes of water to residential and industrial areas north of the uMngeni River collapsed on Monday afternoon after steel cables holding up the suspended pipe were stolen.

Durban - Durban is facing a water crisis because a major pipeline collapsed into the uMngeni River on Monday after cable thieves stole its supports.

The impact of the disaster means the areas north of the river could face at least a week without water as the eThekwini Municipality urgently tries to repair the damage.

The suspended pipeline at the Durban Heights water treatment plant in Reservoir Hills supplies 70 percent of the northern areas with water.

Cable thieves stole nine steel cables in the middle of the 50-year-old water suspension bridge.

The 1m diameter pipe running across the uMngeni carries more than 600 million litres of water a day, supplying Phoenix, KwaMashu, Inanda, Ntuzuma, uMhlanga, Durban North and uMzinyathi.

King Shaka International Airport and the Cornubia housing project will also be affected as they are fed by the same pipeline. Schools and hospitals will be affected and this could mean patients have to be transferred to other hospitals and schools have to close.

On Monday night, eThekwini’s head of water and sanitation, Neil Macleod, came in person to The Mercury’s offices in Greyville to ask the media to warn the public about the impending emergency.

He said repairing the bridge would “cost the city millions” .

Once it was repaired, Macleod said, the plan was to fortify the bridge to prevent something like this from happening again.

Macleod said a team from the city had been sent to the site and was working on fitting a pipe that would aid in the water supply, but that was not going to be enough.

“If this intervention does not work, it means that all those in the northern areas will have to live on water tankers until the bridge has been replaced,” he said.

Despite each of the affected areas having their own reservoirs, Macleod said they all had less than a day’s water supply.

“If they had been full at the time of the collapse, residents would have still only had two days of water,”

Although areas like uMhlanga and Durban North had an alternative pipe, “it will also be very restricted in supply”.

Macleod said, about a week ago the water and sanitation unit had been alerted to the cable theft on the bridge and had attended to the matter, and also placed two security guards on either side of the bridge. However, the officials had not realised how much the bridge had weakened until it collapsed n Monday.

Macleod said the city had already appointed a contractor to start replacing the pipeline.

The municipality would provide water tankers to the affected areas.

“This will be a lot of work and in the meantime we urge residents in the affected areas to use water very sparingly while we work on sorting out the problem.”

Macleod advised residents not to spend too much time in the shower and not flush their toilets “excessively”.

“If the reserves run out, residents will have to walk with buckets to collect water,” he said.

Airports Company South Africa spokesman Colin Naidoo said that in the past when there have been water shortages, they had worked with the city to ensure there was enough water to cover all the basic needs of the airport.

“We are not aware of the problem as yet, but as soon as the situation worsens, our contingency plan is to bring in water tanks to make sure all the toilets can flush and our restaurants will be able to clean their dishes,” said Naidoo.

Phoenix Industrial councillor Roy Moodley said that if the water was cut off to the big industrial parks “we will be in serious trouble”.

He said the big companies in the area that would be affected were Coca-Cola, Phoenix Galvanizing and bakeries, among others.

“If water is cut off for even one day there will be major implications for businesses and the lives of the people in the area,” said Moodley.

In July 2008 metal thieves plunged a large part of the south Durban region, including major industries, into darkness when they made off with an electricity transmitting tower’s mounting bolts and structural members. The tower collapsed, causing further inconvenience when high-voltage cables fell on to Umbumbulu Road, between Lotus Park and Isipingo.

The Toyota plant in Prospecton, and KwaMakhutha, Isipingo and Umlazi were without power for days.

The Mercury