A massive fire broke out in Plettenberg Bay at the Kranshoek Viewpoint area just outside the coastal holiday town early on Wednesday morning. Picture: Ewald Stander/ANA Reporter
Cape Town – The death toll from the severe weather conditions in the Western Cape reached nine on Thursday, the provincial government said.

"Unfortunately we need to announce there's another fatality, we just received the news that we found a three-year-old body, bringing the total fatalities to nine since the disaster started," Local Government MEC Anton Bredell said in a media briefing with his human settlements and finance counterparts.

The body of the child was found in a burned out building in Welbedacht, Knysna.

The Southern Cape town has been ravaged by fires, fanned by gale force winds.

On Wednesday, a family of three – a woman, her husband and their child – died in a fire in Rheenendal, outside Knysna.

The other deaths were in the Cape, which experienced heavy rains, gale force winds, thunder and lightning.

The fatalities included four people who died in a fire in Kraaifontein caused by lightning, while another death was confirmed in Lavender Hill due to a building collapse.

Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela said 827 informal structures in the Peninsula were destroyed, with 2 500 people displaced.

In Knysna, at least 8 000 people were evacuated and are being accommodated in community halls.

The Brenton and Belevedere areas of Knysna suffered extensive damage. "We are engaging with the MEC of finance to see how we can engage our partners at municipal level to ensure people are resettled," said Madikizela.

He said the rebuild programme would commence on Friday when the weather was expected to clear up.

Finance MEC Ivan Meyer said he had invoked section 25 of the Public Finance Management Act which allows him to access emergency funding to assist affected areas.

"I've already asked the provincial treasury this coming weekend to assist us with assessing the scale of this particular problem. Next Wednesday I will go to the cabinet and put some proposals on the table to deal with this crisis," he said.

Meyer's office was in contact with the diplomatic corps in Cape Town to seek donations, food, blankets and other relief for the victims of the adverse weather.

During the media briefing it was announced the Knysna fire was moving towards Plettenberg Bay.

At least 100 people have been evacuated from the Robber and Piesang Valley area.

The rest of Plettenberg Bay has been placed on standby for possible evacuations.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on Thursday said five airforce helicopters were on standby.

Three would assist firefighters in Knysna while the other two would help with evacuations in the rest of the storm-hit Western Cape.

The choppers were, however, still grounded due to the weather.

"Due to the wind speed and severity levels at the moment, all deployed air elements, civilian and military, are unable to take to the skies," the SANDF said.

The SANDF would also deploy troops to patrol Knysna to protect homes and businesses from looting in the evacuated areas.

"The SANDF will also deploy water tankers to assist the Provincial Emergency Services battle the raging fires." Western Cape Disaster Management chief director Colin Diener said other than the Eden District Municipality which had assisted with firefighting efforts in Knysna, two trucks and two crew from the Overberg were dispatched, as well as seven fire trucks and crews from the City of Cape Town.

Working on Fire had deployed 12 teams consisting of 24 firefighters each, while 10 other teams from outside the province were on standby.

"We moved 100 firefighters and 14 strike units of Cape Nature from their areas into the Southern Cape to assist," said Diener, adding that Volunteer Wildlife Services were also lending assistance.

At least 34 schools were destroyed in the province. Assessments were still being done to determine damage to bulk infrastructure and health facilities.

The City of Cape Town sent resources to Knysna to help evacuate its hospital.

"A command unit from Emergency Medical Services moved in there and started to evacuate the hospital which was carried out successfully overnight," Diener said.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, accompanied by Transport and Public Workers MEC Donald Grant, Tourism and Economic Development MEC Alan Winde and Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo, were expected to visit Knysna on Thursday afternoon.

The MECs said there was currently a "humanitarian crisis" in Knysna.

Provincial disaster management officials said they had received large amounts of donations which a courier company had offered to move to the Southern Cape.

Meanwhile, #OperationSA and the Al-Imdaad Foundation said it was aiming to raise at least R1 million in 24 hours to help the victims of the storms in the Cape and the fires in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

"The money will go directly to the Al-Imdaad Foundation who have teams on stand-by to buy essential items such as food, blankets and clothing. We will deliver the aid without delays," OperationSA's Yusuf Abramjee said, adding volunteers were on standby to assist in distributing the aid.

* Pick n Pay will gather and deliver any online purchases made on their website in aid of Knysna Fire Relief. Click here for more info.