South Africa

PROVINCIAL DISASTER

KwaZulu-Natal flooding death toll tops 250 as visibly affected Cyril Ramaphosa sees devastation first-hand

Strewn shipping containers lie beside the N2 Highway after floods wreaked havoc in Durban on 13 April 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Years of underspending on repairs and maintenance of city infrastructure, blocked stormwater systems and exceptional levels of plastic pollution further blocking drainage channels are likely to become a critical focal point as the analysis of the most recent KZN flooding disaster unfolds in the coming weeks and months.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was in the province on Wednesday, criss-crossing from one affected area to the other, visibly affected by the destruction. 

While this was happening, the province’s health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, said that more than 250 deaths had been linked to the four days of driving rain and consequent flooding that battered KwaZulu-Natal. 

She told eNCA that since Tuesday evening the department had admitted  253 bodies to the Pinetown and Phoenix mortuaries that were connected to the flooding. 

“We are just crossing our fingers that we do not find any other bodies, but the reality of the situation is that we actually might,” said Simelane-Zulu. 

Rescue operations under way

Rescue operations continued into Wednesday, with reports of sporadic looting emerging in a province still reeling from the effects of the July 2021 riots. Police told Daily Maverick, however, that no charges related to looting had yet been laid. 

An aerial image of a flooded truck yard in Prospecton after flooding in Durban on 13 April 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The value of the damage is expected to be massive, with KZN premier Sihle Zikalala telling journalists in an impromptu interview on Wednesday that it was expected to run into “hundreds of millions” of rands.  

Shops, warehouses, and malls that had recently recovered from the looting were flooded; important transport routes into the city, the Port of Durban and access roads and bridges to the north and south coast were partially damaged or washed away; houses in townships, informal settlements and suburban homes were damaged, severely damaged or destroyed by landslides. 

Power disruptions

Electrical substations were either destroyed or submerged. This affected water pump stations and thereby water reticulation. Power lines were severed and water pipes damaged, while sewerage systems were equally affected. 

An aerial image of a broken section of the Griffiths Mxenge Highway next to Umlazi after floods caused chaos in Durban on 13 April 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)
Flooding caused havoc at Griffiths Mxenge Highway next to Umlazi on 13 April 2022.
(Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

According to eThekwini Municipality, power and water might only be restored in some areas within a week, at best. 

 While the country is experiencing Stage 2 rolling blackouts, Eskom announced that eThekwini would not be required to meet the electrical load-reduction targets. 

Ports suspend activity

The Port of Durban was forced to suspend all activity in the port on Monday evening as access roads and railway lines in and out of the port were damaged. It is unclear when the port – the gateway to southern Africa – will return to full service. 

The Transnet National Port Authority said operations at the deep-water port of Richards Bay were limited.  

Sapref, a major crude oil refinery, had to have stranded staff airlifted out of the flooded complex, while staff at global paper manufacturer Mondi, in Merebank, were evacuated too. 

Chemical spill overflow

The municipality announced that the pollution control dam built to help mitigate the chemical spill from the UPL chemical warehouse, had overflowed into the Umhlanga River due to the “unprecedented rains”. 

The warehouse, which stored dangerous chemicals, many of which had not been disclosed to authorities, was looted and set alight during the unrest and led to large volumes of dangerous chemicals entering the river and ocean ecosystem. 

This road tanker washed up on a Durban beach amid flooding and heavy rain on 12 April 12. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said that although most of the overflow had stopped, a “leak in the pipework that is still discharging into the environment has been observed”. 

“Tankering of the water from the pollution control dam has therefore resumed in earnest, and other measures to reduce the amount of rainwater entering the dam have been implemented by the specialists.”

While UPL specialists had informed them that the level of pollutants in the dam “were significantly low”, water samples had been taken. 

Backlog of trucks

According to Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Kelly, there is a 10km backlog of trucks from the Marianhill Plaza towards Hammarsdale. Some trucks were already being targeted by looters. 

“Access roads around the port have been damaged, container yards, truck depots and trucks themselves have been flooded and damaged and the area is really a disaster at the moment. Logistics operations will be impacted: there will be delivery disruptions for goods being imported. The association has advised members to delay any departures towards Durban, and to find depots and safe parking areas along the way,” said Kelly, adding that there were “no foreseeable shortages” in foodstuffs and fuel.

At the time of publication, areas severely affected by the flooding in eThekwini alone included Claremont, Molweni, Umlazi, KwaMashu, Inanda, Ntuzuma, Amanzimtoti, Verulam, Merebank, the Bluff, Umbilo, Durban’s CBD and Umdloti. DM

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  • Professional engineers such as myself have been warning government authorities of this possibility for many years. They just do not listen, and also they lack the necessary engineering skills to address the situation. For example culverts and drains need to be inspected two or three times a year to see if they are still working, but the current staff are just too lazy to do this. We are now reaping the fruits of cadre deployment of incoompetent people.

  • ““hundreds of millions” of rands”” damage? Not a chance. The premier is out of touch with reality. Billions of rands damage to the infrastructure alone, not to mention the damage to personal property. And of course this will provide another fantastic opportunity for officials to get their snouts in the trough.

  • Incredibly poor building standards and lack of any proper skills in those companies that win tenders to build roads, bridges etc that can be washed away by a big wave. What a sad state we are in in SA.

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