A man walked near a collapse bridge and burst water pipe on Umhlathizana Road at Tshelimnyama, near Marrianhill. In less than 24 hours, almost R25 000 has been raised on the platform with contributions from 51 donors for victims of the KwaZulu-Natal floods. Picture Bongani Mbatha / African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - DESPITE the devastating floods in 2017, eThekwini Municipality was still unprepared for the storms which lashed the metro this week.

At least 64 people died and more than 1000 were displaced when their homes were destroyed.

At an executive committee meeting on Friday, the head of disaster management, Vincent Ngubane, said the municipality only had 200 mattresses in its Pinetown storeroom for emergencies.

The municipality has more than 4million citizens.

Answering questions from the DA’s Heinz de Boer, Ngubane said they only had a storeroom, not a warehouse, for relief materials and more money was needed for supplies.

During the meeting, it emerged that some of the victims struggled to get through to the call centre because it could take only take a limited amount of calls at a time.

Ngubane stressed eThekwini was unable to distribute early flood warnings because only the SA Weather Services was mandated to do so.

However, the Sunday Tribune spoke to meteorologist Edward Engelbrecht, who said: “When we publish something, we want people to share it so that the message can be spread. In terms of disaster management, they will receive the warning from us and spread it to their stakeholders.”

Yet Ngubane told Exco that the city had one of the best early flood warning systems but was not allowed to warn residents.

The municipality’s interim storm damage report stated only 171 to 200 calls reached its call centre, while 1264 people could not get through.

DA caucus leader Nicole Graham said they were concerned about the capacity in the disaster call centre with only six staff taking calls during the flooding.

“Why is the city’s early warning system not working properly? If residents had known what to expect, some of the damage could have been avoided. The report states blankets, mattresses and food are provided, but it’s known the city does not keep a store of these items and relies on NGOs and communities to assist.

“It’s unacceptable that the municipality cannot immediately assist those in need,” she said.

Deputy mayor Fawzia Peer, who chairs the disaster and emergency committee, conceded the city relied heavily on NGOs to provide relief.

“This should be an eye-opener - we have to expand the capacity of our disaster centre. We planned for a small fire rather than such massive damage. We will ask for more funds to expand the centre’s capacity because of climate change,” said Peer.

Exco said R658million was needed for repairs and that Section 36 of the supply chain management policy would be used to fast-track the response to the damage. It also called for the municipality to be declared a national disaster.

The DA and IFP agreed to the recommendations but said the city had a bad history of misusing funds meant for disaster victims.

Mdu Nkosi of the IFP said while urgent action was needed, it could be an opportunity for city officials to loot. He said the extent of the damages would not be so severe had the municipality spent the money correctly after the 2017 storm.

“In previous incidents we have seen looting through the use of Section 36.”

Sunday Tribune