‘Oil was shooting from the ground’
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Durban - For residents at the normally quiet complex of Greenvale overlooking the rural landscape of Hillcrest, Christmas 2014 is a date that will not be forgotten in a hurry – but for all the wrong reasons.
Instead of enjoying the festive spirit, diesel was spewing out of the ground shooting metres into the air.
Describing the incident, resident Sammy Joe Taylor said that she woke up in the early hours of Tuesday morning trying to work out what the loud gurgling noise was coming from her back garden.
“I walked outside on to my deck and couldn’t believe my eyes. In the darkness I could see a fountain of oil coming from the ground. The smell was overwhelming. I knew that something really bad had happened.”
And she was right.
The pipeline between Durban and Joburg had burst in the upmarket housing complex of Greenvale in Shongweni Road with 200 000 litres of diesel spewing into the environment, turning gardens and driveways into toxic rivers of oily sludge.
And the epicentre of the disaster was a section of the pipeline, which had fractured not 6m from her bedroom door.
“I had no idea that the pipeline was so close to my property.”
A deep canyon in her back garden bears testimony to a very close encounter.
“Imagine if we had been sitting in the garden at the time the pipe burst,” says Taylor.
Shaun Maitre said he was woken up on Tuesday night by dogs barking frantically.
“I went outside into the garden only to find a 10cm deep river of diesel flowing past my house. I realised that this was a dangerous situation and had to evacuate my family and pets.“
In the aftermath of the disaster, clean-up teams wearing masks and protective clothing are trying to move as much of the diesel spill as possible.
Horse grazing pastures have had to be abandoned. Instead the fields are now “home” to rows upon rows of the emergency spill trucks involved in the ongoing clean-up operation.
According to the Transnet disaster management team, the broken pipeline has been removed and replaced.
Affected residents say the response to the disaster has been quick and efficient. However there remain some serious concerns.
“The health and safety aspects are the most pressing of our concerns,” says Maitre, a KZN business consultant. “Our gardens are heavily contaminated with diesel and we need to know how this will impact upon our health and our children’s health in the long term. We understand there will be air and ground monitoring, but the damage to the environment is huge.”
Among other concerns are the possible damage of the leaked oil to retaining walls and building foundations, contamination of surrounding streams and ground water.
The pipeline is often referred to as “the grand old lady” having been installed more than 60 years ago.
“If this is wear and tear, this could happen in other areas where the pipeline runs through,” says Maitre. “We are lucky that on that night the wind was blowing from the north. If it had been a southerly wind our properties would have been covered in oil.
He said that what the residents were hoping for now was ongoing feedback from all the major players, including Transnet, the government and local authorities.
“This is a major environmental disaster,” says Maitre. “I think we all need to be very well aware of that in the weeks and months to come.”