Snowfalls across three provinces left thousands of people trapped in their homes, cars, buses and trucks as emergency workers battled for several hours to reach them.
Major roads were shut in the Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal after several blizzards hit, leaving chaos in their path.
Emergency services and metro police were forced to close the N3 as far back as the Wilge Plaza near Villiers on Tuesday, resulting in long lines of cars and trucks reversing away from the toll road after seeing the blockade.
According to the N3 Concession Company, 220km of the N3 was sealed off and motorists were stranded along major routes. The N3 highway towards Durban was cut off after several overturned and jack-knifed trucks were marooned on Van Reenen’s Pass near Harrismith.
It took emergency services more than six hours to clear through the kilometres of snow and heavy wind into the pass, eventually rescuing the motorists trapped inside.
Paramedics were relieved to discover that the drivers of the overturned trucks were uninjured, and had climbed from the cabs of their vehicles and sought refuge with other drivers. This had kept them warm.
“It was very lucky that no one was hurt,” said Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha.
By the mid-morning, roadside assistance teams had arrived outside Harrismith, informing motorists that they had to return to Durban or Joburg.
Drivers of long-distance trucks were assisted individually to turn around their loads. Several truckers opted to wait out the weather, either in Villiers or Vaal West.
“It doesn’t look like they’ll be reopening until tomorrow,” said Botha.
The defence force’s 5th South African Infantry Battalion was called in to assist motorists along the N3 highway between Villiers and Harrismith.
Three water tankers from the SANDF provided water to the Masilonyana municipality in Brandfort, where there was a water shortage. Heavy-duty military vehicles from 2 Field Engineer Regiment helped move trucks that obstructed the traffic flow.
A national joint operations centre was set up to respond to any emergencies that might arise.
At the Vaal West 1 Stop garage, truck drivers, delivering juice, shoes, fertiliser and gas, bemoaned their situation.
“We were told to wait until tomorrow morning, so we will be staying overnight right here,” said Brian Bodkin, of BC Carriers, who had a strict deadline to deliver his shipment of juice to Durban.
“Well, our holiday to Durban is ruined. Let’s go to Sun City,” Patricia Ramsey said to her family.
Residents of Harrismith woke to find the town covered in snow and without power.
Doreen de Klerk, who has lived in the town for 21 years, said it was only the third time in that period that so much snow had fallen.
“I couldn’t even open my garage. I was trapped in my home,” she said.
Businesses remained closed throughout the day. The town was plunged into darkness at the start of the snowfall on Monday when a transformer blew. Residents had been told that electricity would be fully restored by on Thursday.
The icy weather brought suffering to shack dwellers in the nearby township of Intabazwe.
“We don’t have a heater. My roof is leaking and my children can get sick because we are not warm at night,” said Alina Radebe.
Radebe, 35, said she could not open the tuck shop she runs from her home because of the weather.
“This means no money for us,” she said.
In the Eastern Cape, several towns were snowed in. Schools and businesses remained closed, the power supply was intermittent, cars were stranded on roadsides and people battled to keep warm in Barkly East and Elliot.
“It has been really scary for the people in Elliot. They have been without power… so all the businesses were closed.
“The entire town shut down and the pass between us and them was closed off,” said Lesley Meise, of the Barkly East Reporter.
Residents of snow-bound Newcastle in northern KwaZulu-Natal set up a soup kitchen in a park on Tuesday to help the homeless and travellers stranded because of road closures.
“The traffic department called me this morning and asked if we could help out in some way because there were so many cold and hungry people stranded in Newcastle,” said local businessman Johan Pieters, who said a soup kitchen had been set up in the trimpark, providing meals to stranded travellers.
Twenty trucks were parked at the trimpark, while a bus travelling from Durban to Bloemfontein had been stranded in the town since Monday evening.
“It’s very cold; we don’t have food and we slept on the bus last night,” passenger Susan Motsoane said. Another passenger, Eric Zimase, said: “I’m very hungry. We don’t know when we are going to be able to leave.”
In Joburg, train passengers of the mainline passenger service between Joburg and Durban, and Joburg and East London, were unable to travel after services were cancelled.
The SA Weather Service said the intensely cold weather system would have passed over the country by Wednesday morning, with temperatures rising steadily by Thursday. - Pretoria News
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