Scores injured, houses destroyed in Pietermaritzburg tornado

By Desiree Erasmus 13 November 2019

Scores of people were injured, houses collapsed or washed away and trees uprooted when a tornado ripped through semi-rural areas in New Hanover, just outside Pietermaritzburg, on Tuesday afternoon.

According to KwaZulu-Natal’s co-operative governance office, the areas of Mpolweni and Thokozani in the uMshwathi Local Municipality were particularly hard hit.

In a video that went viral on social media, the large tornado is seen moving through the countryside while strong winds can be heard on the audio.

(Source: Social Media)

However, the country’s weather bureau was quick to caution that such weather was not uncommon.

Eskom reported that its Mersey substation had been affected by the tornado, “which led the 33kV Mpolweni feeder to trip”.

Eskom teams were on-site and waiting for the storm to subside before evaluating the damage, said Joyce Zingoni, Eskom’s communications and stakeholder manager for KwaZulu-Natal.

South African Weather Service forecaster Jan Vermeulen told Daily Maverick late Tuesday night that the tornado had blown over, and there was no indication of any others forming, despite social media reports.

The weather service’s official Twitter account cautioned against “hoaxes” that other tornadoes were forming, though heavy rains and storm activity could still be expected, said Vermeulen. The weather was not unprecedented, he said, as November was known for “frequent storms, large hail and rain”.

Several parts of the province had already exceeded their average monthly rainfall figures, he said. Preliminary data measured at 8am on Tuesday showed that over the past two days, King Shaka airport recorded 120mm of rain, KwaMashu 91mm and Ulundi 122mm. The data would be updated on Wednesday morning, said Vermeulen.

Durban has been hit by a string of weather-related emergencies in recent years. In April, heavy localised flooding throughout the city resulted in 70 deaths, with more than 1,000 people displaced. Roads collapsed and more than 100 homes were affected, several collapsing on families. Damage was estimated at R650-million.

The disaster led to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cutting short a trip to the African Union Summit in Egypt to visit the affected areas.

The province’s disaster management teams have been placed on alert since the weekend as the customary November storms are expected to cause severe damage. According to authorities, one person died over the weekend after being struck by lighting.

On Monday, Aaron Zondo, 68, and his wife Nomathamasanqa, 55, died when their Inanda home collapsed. The couple was asleep at the time. Durban mayor Mxolisi Kaunda visited the site and the couples’ family on Tuesday.

KwaZulu-Natal’s Cogta MEC, Sipho Hlomuka, will visit the areas affected by the tornado on Wednesday 13 November, his office said. Heavy rainfall was still falling over Durban by 10pm on Tuesday. DM


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