South Africa

PROVINCIAL DISASTER

Death toll mounts as KZN sinks beneath torrential rains, floods amid decimated infrastructure

This bridge at Nhlungwane extension was washed away, leaving a crater. It was on the main road connecting Ntuzuma and areas such as Inanda and KwaMashu. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

After more than four days of constant rain, KwaZulu-Natal’s infrastructure, which has been under strain from years of under-investment and poor maintenance, buckled. This led to multiple drownings, landslides, power outages, water shortages and flooding of bridges, homes and businesses on Monday and Tuesday. And the wet weather is set to resume through the Easter weekend.

Scores of people have died, suburban walls have collapsed, vehicles have ploughed into newly-formed sinkholes, cemeteries have flooded and many businesses have temporarily closed. 

Adding to the complexity is that rescue teams across the city are cut off from each other with major thoroughfares completely flooded, roads washed away and some bridges nearing collapse. The inclement weather has also prevented any major air support from getting off the ground. 

Just metres from the bridge that was washed away in Ntuzuma, northwest of Durban, a number of people and their homes were swept away by the deluge that swamped their homes. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

The death toll mounts

At last count, four people had officially been confirmed dead, but this is a moving target, with more deaths yet to be confirmed. On Tuesday afternoon, Premier Sihle Zikalala said he would be in Georgedale, in the Hammarsdale area, where five members of one family died. 

At a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said that “many people had lost their lives”, but that the provincial department of cooperative governance (Cogta) had been tasked with releasing the official number of fatalities. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Tragedy in KZN as floods cause devastation, mostly for the poor in informal settlements

A journalist door-stopped Cogta MEC Sipho Hlomuka just after that briefing, where the MEC said that 45 people had lost their lives in eThekwini alone. 

Kaunda said the city’s call centre had been overwhelmed on Monday night and it was not possible to tend to every issue phoned in.

KZN floods - The storm and flood-ravaged wreckage of houses in KwaZulu-Natal.
The storm and flood-ravaged wreckage of houses in KwaZulu-Natal. (Picture: Mandla Langa)

“Most of the city’s electricity power stations have been flooded and our teams were unable to access them [on Monday night]. There are certain water treatment plants that have been damaged, including those that belong to Umgeni water.”

The cost of the damage was yet to be tallied, said Kaunda. 

He said the city would “interact” with those who had lost family members. 

He confirmed that some cemeteries were flooded but did not comment on reports that coffins had been left exposed at the Ntuzuma cemetery, north of Durban. 

Landslides and disrepair

Kaunda said that scores of residents, including himself, were without water. 

He said that there was ongoing “communication” with the South African National Defence Force, which had been approached to assist the city and province. It was hoped the defence force would arrive on Tuesday evening, he said. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Could the KZN flooding disaster have been mitigated by a better early warning system?

He sidestepped questions about the state of the city’s drainage and stormwater infrastructure, which has been in a state of disrepair for several years, saying that most of the issues currently being experienced related to landslides.

By Tuesday lunchtime, the Passenger Rails Association of South Africa (Prasa) took a decision to “temporarily close the Cato Ridge line due to the heavy rains that affected the safety of trains running on that line”.

KZN floods - People trying to cross a river in Ntuzuma where a bridge was washed away.
People trying to cross a river in Ntuzuma where a bridge was washed away. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Roads washed away and cables exposed

Meanwhile, a key entrance to the Durban port, known as Bayhead Road, which runs along a canal, has had large parts of the road washed away, with piping and electrical cables now exposed. Nearby trucks can be seen partially submerged while flooding is threatening warehouses close to the canals. Transnet Port Terminals told Daily Maverick it would be releasing a statement on damage to its properties throughout the course of the day. 

Container washed away by floods in Prospecton in iSipingo, South of Durban
The industrial suburb of Prospecton in iSipingo, South of Durban where containers were scattered during severe floods in the area. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Durban’s river systems, such as the Umbilo, Umgeni, Amanzimtoti and Ohlanga rivers have all burst their banks, endangering the lives of informal dwellers. 

Collating the damage

“Our teams are still collating the extent of the damage so far. Disaster management teams have been evacuating people in areas that have experienced mudslides, flooding, and structural collapses of buildings and roads. The heavy rains have affected power lines in many municipalities with technical teams working around the clock to restore power,” said Hlomuka. 

He is due to officially address the media on Tuesday afternoon, where an update on the number of deaths is expected. 

Inundated with emergency calls

Craig Lambinon, spokesman for the NSRI, said their stations along the coastline were continuing to assist emergency services in multiple flood-related incidents along the coast and inland. 

He said that on Monday night and Tuesday morning, rescue teams were “inundated with emergency calls and are continuing to assist in flood-related incidents involving local citizens, domestic and farm animals and wildlife”. 

Power outages

MTN said on Tuesday that 500 sites were down in KZN, the result of infrastructure damage and power outages due to the rain. Contingency plans had been activated for site restoration, it said.

KZN floods - North Coast Road in Durban, where parked cars were washed away by the floods
North Coast Road in Durban, where parked cars were washed away by the floods. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Dam warning

The Department of Water and Sanitation warned residents living downstream to stay away from dams owing to an imminent increase of outflow from them.

“Residents are warned to steer clear of the dam areas. Communities with equipment in and near the dams are asked to remove them so as to ensure that no damage is caused,” said the department. 

It had also been decided that Umgeni Water would release water from the Hazelmere Dam north of Durban, as a safety measure while work continued to raise the dam wall.

More downpours forecast over Easter

If forecasts are correct, the driving winds and rain are expected to subside over the next 24-hours, but the respite will be short-lived, with downpours forecast to continue over the Easter weekend and into next week.  

Hlomuka advised residents in low-lying areas to seek shelter on higher ground, adding that public halls had been opened to accommodate those in need.

According to the South African Weather Service, the heavy rainfall is set to continue and will affect municipalities such as eThekwini Metro, KwaDukuza, Mandeni, Maphumulo, Ndwedwe, uMlalazi, Msunduzi, Ray Nkonyeni, Umdoni, Mkhambathini, Richmond, Msunduzi, Ubuhlebezwe, uMngeni, uMshwathi, Umuziwabantu, Umvoti, Umzimkhulu, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Umzumbe.  DM

Prospecton in iSipingo, South of Durban where containers were dislodged and scattered through heavy flooding in the area. (Photo: Mandla Langa)
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All Comments 5

  • The premier visiting a family WTF that is important but he should be in an emergency command post coordinating rescue efforts, port operations keeping supply lines open as far as possible etc etc etc this is a massive situation

  • Really, Des? This is a natural disaster and a monumental tragedy for a great many people, and you think this is the time to score a few cheap points? There will be a time to talk about how infrastructure can be improved to withstand this kind of mayhem and to discuss the need for robust, safe housing and services, but it sure as hell is not now! Now we are trying to (literally) keep our heads above water. You can help and support, or you can just shut up.

  • There is an issue that affects most homeowners in KZN whose property suffered mudslides/collapsed banks that did not damage dwellings/improvements on their properties – which includes circumstances where such mudslides/bank collapses are the result of poor/improper/inadequate maintenance of roads bordering such properties by ANC-run eThekwini Municipality. Our (DA) ward counsellor informed that eThekwini will 1) Only deal with the householders’ insurers of the properties of affected citizens if such citizens need to make claims for the repair of mudslides/collapsed banks that did not damage dwellings, and 2) Affected homeowners must show that their householders’ insurers repudiated claims to repair such damage. However, householders’ insurers exclude the cover of mudslides/collapsed bank damage and only cover damage to dwellings and improvements on properties that are the result of mudslides/collapsed banks. Consequently, householders’ insurers will not repudiate claims to repair mudslides/collapsed banks, so citizens cannot meet the demands of eThekwini to claim for such damage. Contact me on [email protected] for proof and further details. This warrants follow-up by investigative journalists (which I state in abject empathy for my fellow citizens who lost so much more).

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