KZN braces for even more storms in the wake of a tornado and loss of life
The KwaZulu-Natal government called an urgent media briefing on Thursday afternoon to relay a message to citizens: Hunker down, more storms and heavy rain are coming in the next 24 hours.
Twenty minutes into the press briefing, rain started pelting the city.
According to the provincial authorities, predictions indicate the intensity of the rainfall and storms expected on Thursday and Friday will be worse than the downpours, hail and mudslides that claimed over 70 lives and caused damage estimated at over R650-million in April this year.
The provincial government said in a statement on Thursday afternoon the latest inclement weather was a “crisis” and said KZN was bracing for a “mega-storm”.
About 150mm of rain was expected in parts of the province, according to authorities. The average for November is about 110mm.
The provincial education department earlier in the morning told schools to release pupils and teachers early and to remain closed on Friday.
Employers were also urged to send workers home.
“We are leaving nothing to chance,” KZN’s Co-operative Governance MEC Sipho Hlomuka told media at the eThekwini disaster management centre.
eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said disaster management teams had already been dispatched to 11 areas identified as high risk for flooding; teams were on standby to evacuate residents if and when needed.
Kaunda also used the briefing to offer an update on the “good and significant” progress made in assisting the over 1,000 eThekwini residents affected by the April floods. About 300 people still had to be permanently relocated, he said.
Houses damaged during that flood and accompanying mudslides, which should have been demolished, were being knocked down, he said. Although eight months since the April devastation, Kaunda said: “We are happy with the progress”.
Five people have died since Sunday as a result of the latest bout of inclement weather, but the now almost predictable annual destruction during the province’s well-recorded rainy season started last month.
There had been 14 “confirmed casualties” since October, “when the current bad weather spell began,” said Hlomuka.
“As the provincial government, we do not wish to see a repeat of the tragedies we saw in this province in April. Once bitten, twice shy, we believe we should be over-prepared rather than under-prepared because we would better be safe than sorry when the next disaster strikes.”
Hlomuka said an around the clock provincial joint operation centre had been established in eThekwini that would co-ordinate province-wide responses.
“All our municipalities have been instructed to [set-up] district joint operation centres which will coordinate district-wide responses to crises as and when needed….
“As part of these efforts, all municipalities have been directed to alert and, if and when necessary, evacuate communities from all flood-line areas and also from areas that are prone to mudslides and large-scale soil erosion.”
Cogta has been accused of reacting slowly to the potential for disasters – a gripe that is raised every time inclement weather hits the province.
There is merit in this argument, given that the communication skills of some of the smaller municipalities that are overseen by the department are severely lacking.
The website for uMshwathi Local Municipality on Thursday afternoon still made no mention of the tornado that hit its New Hanover area earlier in the week – two people died as a result of housing collapses and about 20 were injured.
Dozens of homes – some mud and stick structures and others poorly constructed brick and block – were flattened as the tornado tore through the area.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) released a warning for severe thunderstorms and rain over the province on Wednesday, but uMshwathi’s social media accounts remain dormant.
Residents spent most of Wednesday morning clearing up what was left – if anything – in Mpolweni and Thokozani, the two areas under uMshwathi that were hardest hit.
In a media statement released late on Wednesday night, the provincial government said preliminary reports indicated that “huge damage” had been sustained in the area and that infrastructure damage was estimated to be in the millions of rands.
uMshwathi is one of seven municipalities falling under the uMgungundlovu District. uMgungundlovu’s website also had no information for those affected by the tornado or of the coming storms.
At about 12.30pm on Thursday, the following was posted on Umgungundlovu’s Facebook page: “Please be warned of imminent bad weather conditions in the Midlands and surrounding areas. Stay in a safe place. In cases of urgent dire need for help you can contact UMDM dudaster management office on 0795111301/ 0833141494 or 033 8976700.” (sic)
SAWS had already issued a warning for uMshwathi and other areas via Twitter at 3pm on Wednesday. DM