Rescue workers and community members are currently at the scene searching for other family members who may have been buried under the rubble. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Durban – The official provincial death toll from a severe storm that lashed KwaZulu-Natal stood at 32 by Tuesday evening, but the number was set to climb as more bodies were still being recovered.

A severe rainstorm hit the eThekwini (Durban) area on Monday night and continued into Tuesday, with devastation also being recorded on the South Coast.

By late Tuesday afternoon, 23 people were confirmed dead in the eThekwini area as a result of mudslides, collapsed homes and other collapsed structures.

Roads were flooded and washed away, traffic severely disrupted, numerous accidents were reported and several schools and businesses closed for safety reasons.

Scores of residents were displaced and had to seek shelter in temporary emergency relief tents erected by the provincial disaster management unit. Others would be sheltered in community halls, according to the city mayor.

The provincial government made a call for donations via social media in the afternoon to assist the displaced.

At the time of publication, rescue efforts were still underway at the Westcliff Secondary School in Chatsworth, where the caretaker’s quarters had collapsed following a mudslide.

Eight bodies had been pulled from the rubble by 4pm, including a mother and child, while two people had been rushed to hospital with serious injuries.  A crane and Tractor-Loader-Backhoe (TLB) had to be used in the rescue efforts.

Chatsworth, Malvern and Umlazi, south of Durban, were particularly badly affected. Seven people died in Malvern when their house collapsed after a mudslide.

Recalling her ordeal in Chatsworth on Monday night, 53-year-old Regina Naidoo told African News Agency (ANA) that she waited for close on four hours in a partially submerged car before eventually making it to safety.

Regina and her husband Leslie (58) had been attending a jazz night at the Hotel Savera at which their adult daughter was singing. They left the venue at about 8.30pm, just as the storm gained momentum, via Oak Avenue.

The couple’s car started to aquaplane and eventually settled in what is best described as a sinkhole, which started to rapidly fill with water as hard rain gushed down.

“The water was rising very quickly on the driver’s side and around the back of the car. My husband was driving. He told me to jump out so I opened the door but I couldn’t, the water was already too high.

“He climbed over me and got out through the passenger side and kept on telling me to jump out because we had to find out where we were so we could call for help,” Naidoo said.

Realising how heavy the rain was, Naidoo said she reassessed the situation and realised if she left the vehicle, her cellphone would get drenched and she may not be able to phone for help in the pitch-black night.

Leslie was still trying to find out where the couple was in order to direct rescuers to the scene. He would try to find landmarks and then return to the car to check on her.

Despite finally finding their location and phoning for assistance, Naidoo said help only arrived about three-and-a-half-hours later. “The tow truck drivers, everyone we called, were stuck on the roads because of the rain.

“Eventually, several people were standing on the hill above the car, just to make sure we were safe. They wouldn’t leave but they couldn’t get to us, nor could my daughter, who had come to assist, as the sand was moving fast under her feet.

“Some men tried to push the car out of the road but the water kept on rising and subsiding and then rising,” she said.

Eventually, a rescue worker managed to help Naidoo from the vehicle to safety. The car was towed to the couple’s Overport home.

“It was a miracle we got out. I kept on praying while I was in the car and I kept on praying for other people that I knew must have been in a similar situation because of the storm,” she said.

According to the province’s MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, about 300 mm of rain had fallen overnight. Rescue and recovery efforts were set to continue into Tuesday night and more rain was expected.

African News Agency/ANA