Disaster management teams have started clean-up operations across areas affected by a freak storm that left a trail of damage and destruction in its wake in KwaZulu-Natal. Pictures: Leon Lestrade African News Agency (ANA).
Letting the public know about an impending storm two days before it happens could lessen the impact of disasters when they strike.

Such an early warning system is in the pipeline after Monday’s torrential downpour which left 67 people dead, with roads and homes washed away, and thousands displaced.

On Friday, there were still some areas in the city without water and electricity.

eThekwini municipality’s executive committee yesterday held an emergency meeting at which it was confirmed that an urgent call would be made to the provincial cabinet to declare “a state of national disaster”.

It was also agreed by committee members that R658million would be committed to assisting affected residents, as well as repairing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

One of the issues raised during the meeting was warning the public when possible weather-related disasters were going to occur.

While it was highlighted that only the SA Weather Service (SAWS) is mandated to send out weather warnings, head of the disaster management committee Vincent Ngubane said they were working on changing that because the city council had one of the best early flood warning systems in the country.

Pupils sit in a rain-damaged classroom at a school near Durban.

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Ngubane said: “All the information pertaining to the weather is currently circulated to us.

“We are collaborating with the SAWS and scientists from the early flood warning system, to see if we can send out information about severe weather or a potential natural disaster two or three days ahead of it happening. This has the potential to save lives.”

The SAWS has also been investigating how to issue clearer alerts about weather conditions, saying it was no longer good enough to provide a good weather forecast.

SAWS manager of disaster risk reduction, Ezekiel Sebego, said: “People are now demanding important information about what to do to ensure their safety and protect their property.”

Next month SAWS will launch its Impact-Based Severe Weather Warning Service, developed and tested together with the National Disaster Management Centre. It has been described as a “world-class severe weather warning service that evolves the warning message from ‘what the weather will be’ to ‘what the weather will do’”.

This means warnings will be issued with the impact expected and it will be easier to understand for the general public.

Meteorologist Elizabeth Webster said: “Impact-based forecasting means moving from what the weather will be: 50mm rain, 35-knot winds, to roads flooded, communities cut off.

“People don’t want to have to interpret and sift through information, they want to know what is going to happen, when, where and how serious it is. That is what we’re trying to get across.”

Yesterday also saw a number of protests around the city by residents affected by the storm and angry with the municipality’s response.

Water and sanitation department employees also went on strike, which impacted on urgently required repairs and exacerbated five days of no water and electricity for some residents.

A number of roads were blocked with burning tyres affecting traffic coming into the city during morning rush hour. The workers were striking for an increase across the board after workers who are uMkhonto weSizwe Veterans Associations (MKMVA) members were given an increase.

Speaking at the emergency meeting, Mayor Zandile Gumede described the floods as “inflicting untold damage on the public and public infrastructure” and urged residents not to build “on floodplains or on the sides of hills”.

She said the city had provided food and clothing, grief counselling and support desks, as well as three mortuaries (Gale Street, Pinetown and Phoenix) having dedicated staff to help families.

The IFP and DA questioned if provincial or national structures would assist with the millions being committed to the recovery costs from the storm, as well as the maintenance of the stormwater system.

The IFP’s Mdu Nkosi said the damage caused in the October 2017 storm was yet be completely repaired, which had played into the storm damage, and the increase in wages for MK veterans had caused the divisions leading to yesterday’s strike action.

The DA’s Heinz de Boer said the city wanted to declare a state of national disaster, while its workers were “holding the city to ransom while some residents have been without water or electricity for five days”.

Durbanites came forward in droves yesterday for East Coast Radio’s drive with the Gift of the Givers NGO to raise food for victims of the storm.

Deputy Mayor Fawzia Peer highlighted the work done by the NGOs throughout the city which had come to the aid of affected families.

“Local government cannot do it alone and NGOs and Durban business are assisting,” she said.

For those needing assistance, eThekwini’s Disaster Management hotline is 0313670094.

The Saturday Star