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Oliver Meth

The death toll from floods and mudslides after rainstorms struck the South African port city of Durban and surrounding areas in KwaZulu-Natal province has climbed to 59, authorities said on Tuesday.

Following this, the South African Weather Service (Saws) has warned against yet more rainfall and widespread flooding overnight in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and parts of the Eastern Cape provinces.

“Following a weekend of widespread rainfall over much of the country this past weekend, the cut-off low system responsible for the inclement weather began moving eastwards over KwaZulu-Natal(KZN) Gauteng and the Eastern Cape overnight,” the Saws said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

It said that whilst impact-based warnings were issued in a timely manner by the Saws, it appeared that the exceptionally heavy rainfall Tuesday night and Wednesday morning exceeded even the expectations of the southern African meteorological community at large.

The Saws said that at 4pm on Monday, a Level 5 warning was issued for the coast and adjacent interior of KZN and was subsequently escalated to a Level 8 warning at 8pm. However, following reports of further impacts and persistent heavy rainfall, Saws has now upgraded the heavy rain warning to an Orange Level 9 for the remainder of Tuesday.

“Overnight rainfall reports from KwaZulu-Natal have underscored the particularly heavy and extreme nature of the rainfall, with some 24-hour falls exceeding 200mm. More noteworthy, is that a few stations even reported 300 mm or more! A selection of the highest overnight rainfall measured in KwaZulu-Natal includes King Shaka International Airport (225mm), Margate (311mm), Mount Edgecombe (307mm), Port Edward (188mm) as well as Virginia airport (Durban North) with 304mm. “

People loot a shipping container, which was washed away after heavy rains caused flooding in Durban, South Africa, April 12, 2022 /Reuters/

“Such rainfall is of the order of values normally associated with tropical cyclones; however, Saws must strongly emphasise that this system is not tropical in nature, nor is it a tropical cyclone,” the Saws said.

The service said the reason for the rain was a cut-off low in the upper reaches of the troposphere moving seawards, off the eastern coast of South Africa. The Saws explained that cut-off lows were associated with widespread instability in the atmosphere, which can promote periods of prolonged rainfall, as witnessed over many of the interior provinces of South Africa at the weekend.

On Tuesday, the KwaZulu Natal Provincial Executive Council Chaired by the Premier Sihle Zikalala, concluded a special Executive Council meeting where it received reports on the disaster incidents, the effects of disaster response and interventions from the Provincial Inter-Ministerial Committee on Disaster Management chaired by Sipho Hlomuka.

Since Monday, the Province of KwaZulu-Natal experienced what is one of the worst weather storms in the history of our country. The heavy rainfall that has descended on our land over the past few days, has wreaked untold havoc and unleashed massive damage to lives and infrastructure.

Zikalala visited different parts of the province to assess for themselves, but also to pay respects to those who have sadly lost their lives in what is now a provincial tragedy.

The assessment so far indicates that many people lost their lives with Ethekwini alone reporting 45 so far, while iLembe District in areas such as Ndwedwe, Kwadukuza more than 14 are reported to have tragically lost their lives.

House damaged in KwaNdengezi, Durban /Reuters/

The disaster has affected all races and sectors of our society in rural, townships, informal settlements, suburbs and luxury estates. On Wednesday, the Provincial Cabinet visited a number of families in the Georgedale and Sankotshe areas where some families lost five members during the rains.

Undoubtedly, billions of rand worth of damage has been caused to homes, places of work, roads, bridges, electricity and water supply, and other critical government infrastructure. None of our districts have been spared, but the Ethekwini Metro has been the epicentre of this disaster with most of the rain and the worst damage.

The municipalities most affected by heavy rains, damaging winds and flooding were Ilembe, Uthukela, uMgungundlovu, King Cetshwayo, Ugu, Ilembe and Umzinyathi. The province has been on high alert following heavy rains that started battering Ethekwini since the weekend of the 09th of April 2022. The water level has been rising including the river between Mega City in uMlazi and Lamontville which has been rising.

Some communities adjacent to rivers are still being cautioned to relocate to a safer place and many have been evacuated and are housed in community halls and other areas of safety.

Some rivers in Amawoti and Quarry Heights are also overflowing, and residents are advised to move to alternative accommodation. Stapleton Road in Pinetown was also flooded and motorists were encouraged to avoid it. The Amanzimtoti area has also been flooded and the City’s Roads and Stormwater teams were in the area unblocking drains to minimise flooding.

The weather also affected the delivery of education as several learners had to remain at home as they had to close their schools because they were damaged. More than 140 schools have been affected so far by the flooding incidents.

A woman stands at her front door after heavy rains caused flood damage in KwaNdengezi, Durban /Reuters/

In particular 40 learners and 12 educators from Tholulwazi High in Molweni were trapped at school because the bridge they used to cross the river collapsed and the road was washed away by floods. The Grade 12 learners and educators teaching Grade 12 had remained behind for extra tuition on this day.

Residents of Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape provinces have been advised to be cautious, stay indoors and or seek safety on higher ground. Informal settlements built near the riverbanks have since been evacuated by a number of aid organisations who have come to the rescue. More heavy rainfall is expected throughout the Easter weekend, over the next 7 days.

The death toll from the flash floods in some parts of KwaZulu-Natal is expected to rise. It now stands at 45, with many other people still missing. The national defence force has been roped in to assist rescue those who have been caught in the floods, across parts of the country.

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Oliver Meth

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