Cape Town was effectively cut off from the rest of the country yesterday as snow, floods and rockfalls blocked major routes to and from the city.
Flights, however, were not affected.
Snow closed the N1 north of Beaufort West for most of the day, which meant that motorists determined to reach the city would have to go the long way round via Colesberg, Middelberg, Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen and Beaufort West.
Provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa said: “It is an extremely long route but is the only safe route available.”
Vehicles outside Beaufort West on both sides of the blocked section had to queue for hours as workers used bulldozers and graders to clear the snow.
In addition, roads between Three Sisters, Victoria West, Beaufort West and Loxton were also closed because of snow, as was the Montagu Pass.
A bus with 60 passengers was stranded south of Three Sisters in the snow. Hein Rust, Disaster Management head for the Central Karoo District, said some cars were able to get through the snow, but buses and trucks could not.
“Smaller vehicles can manoeuvre more easily on the icy road but bigger vehicles have a much harder time. The dropping temperatures posed a serious risk to the bus’s occupants and our priority was to get them out as soon as possible.”
There was discussion of using the airforce to airlift the passengers out, but the extreme conditions meant the aircraft could not fly.
Eventually the road was cleared. Rust said: “The passengers are safe in the town and bought plenty of food. One or two other areas have been affected but are not as serious.”
Meanwhile lashing rain caused problems along the N2 in the Southern Cape. Part of the highway was closed because of flooding between the Wilderness and Knysna.
Around 300 people were evacuated due to flooding in the Eden district.
The N12 and N9 road of the Outeniqua Pass, was also closed after reports of flooding, rockfalls and heavy mist.
National Sea Rescue Institute spokesman Craig Lambinon said their stations were on standby, and they had had to rescue eight people trapped by rising waters – four at Red Bridge on the Knysna River and another four in Cranmere.
MEC for Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Anton Bredell said disaster management teams were working hard to clear the roads as soon as possible.
“Obviously we are worried but the teams on the ground are doing their best and the progress so far seems good. The sooner the roads are cleared up the better as families head in and out of the city after the mid-year school holidays and the reopening of schools (tomorrow).”
Weather Office spokesman Rian Smit said it should stop snowing by this morning.
”We expect most of the snow to let up overnight in most areas. It should be better with a minimum of -1 ºC and maximum of 10ºC expected in the Beaufort West area. Most of the other areas can expect relief as well.”
Today’s forecast for the city is a maximum temperature of just 13ºC. It will be partly cloudy with some rain, and a 30km south-westerly wind. - Sunday Argus