Snowed Under: Scores of trucks and motorists are stranded in a long queue this morning on the N3, about 30km from Harrismith, after being caught in blizzards. Picture: Steve Lawrence

SHAIN GERMANER and Botho Molosankwe

In buses, trucks, cars and homes thousands of people have been stuck in small towns or on roadsides today as heavy snowfall caused a number of major routes across the country to be closed.

And three truck drivers were marooned for hours in their overturned vehicles this morning as emergency workers attempted to plough through kilometres of snow to rescue them.

An intensely cold weather system hovering over the country left some of the high-lying areas of the country covered in snow, with Van Reenen’s Pass in KwaZulu-Natal ankle-deep in thick icy powder.

The unusual chill and mild rainstorms resulted in frosted, icy roads, with three trucks jackknifing and overturning near the pass in the early hours of this morning.

Emergency workers attempted to get to the overturned trucks for hours, but the deep snow meant ambulances couldn’t get to the possibly injured drivers.

“We’ve had to bring in graders to use as snow ploughs to get through to them,” said Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha.

He said no one had been able to contact the drivers via telephone or radio because of the heavy winds and snow.

Drivers were not prepared for the icy roads, with another truck jackknifing outside Villiers and veering off of the road.

Emergency services and metro police were forced to close the N3 as far back as Wilge Plaza near Villiers, resulting in massive lines of cars and trucks reversing away from the tollroad after seeing the blockade. Busloads of people travelling between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were also stranded.

According to the N3 Concession Company, 220km of the N3 were sealed off and motorists were stranded along major routes. All alternative routes through Heidelberg were closed, with emergency services warning drivers to proceed with extreme caution.

“These weather conditions are an accident waiting to happen. Drive slowly,” said Botha. “The wind up there is crazy and it is causing havoc.”

About 20km outside Harrismith the roads became completely blocked by stationary trucks, taxis and small vehicles, with hundreds of motorists waiting in the freezing cold for any possible movement along the road.

The South African Weather Service said the weather system would already have passed over the country by tomorrow, with temperatures rising steadily by Thursday.

Emergency service personnel were still stuck tens of kilometres outside the pass by 11am.

“It’s impossible to get into the pass from either side,” said Botha.

While those waiting outside the Free State town were still unable to enter, those living inside Harrismith had no electricity. According to Villiers resident Riette Jordaan, whose mother lives in Harrismith, the power outage and sheer volume of snow was preventing people from leaving their homes.

Teams of roadside assistance workers began turning motorists back the way they came, all in an effort to unclog the highway.

Two buses from Eldo’s Coaches heading towards Joburg had to return to the Durban depot last night. Another two that were supposed to have reached Joburg early today are still stuck on the road.

Four Translux buses, two travelling from Pretoria to Durban and two from Durban to Pretoria, were also yet to reach their destinations after leaving early this morning and late last night.

Daniella Ebenezer of SA Roadlink said six of their buses were stranded in Van Reenen this morning. Ebenezer said the buses left Durban at 10pm last night and passengers were wanting to turn back.

“But that is impossible because there is no way a bus can turn back in that kind of traffic,” she said.

In Joburg the South African Weather Service issued a red alert warning to Disaster Management Services with forecasters predicting a maximum of 8°C today. By mid-afternoon Vereeniging will be 6°C, with Pretoria a tad warmer at 10°C. The low in Joburg is expected to be 4°C tonight with the mercury expected to reach 13°C in Joburg tomorrow.

Senior forecaster Jan Vermeulen said there was a 30 percent chance of thunder showers, and possibly snow.

Parts of the Karoo were blanketed in snow for the first time in 30 years.

The Weather Service has issued red alerts in six provinces, all related to falling temperatures and possible snowfalls.