Our Burning Planet

EXTREME WEATHER

Floods displace more than 1,000 informal settlement residents in Komani

Floods displace more than 1,000 informal settlement residents in Komani
Flooding hit Komani after heavy rains caused the Komani River to overflow. (Photo: Supplied)

The floodwaters left a trail of destruction in the town, damaging fences, entertainment areas, the picnic spot at a casino and flooding the ground floor of a hospital.

For five hours, Siyabulela Tshulu sat on top of his shack while rain poured down after floods hit Komani, displacing more than 1,000 people living in informal settlements in the Eastern Cape town.

Cathcart Road in Komani was covered in water on Wednesday morning as the floodwaters left a trail of destruction in the town, damaging fences, entertainment areas and the picnic area at Queens Casino and flooding the ground floor of a hospital.

floods komani

More than 1,000 people took refuge in the Thobi Kula indoor sports centre after being displaced by the floods on Wednesday. (Photo: Supplied)

Local businesses brought food parcels, gas heaters and clothes to help those affected by the floods.

Tshulu said when he got home at 11.30pm the water was just above his feet.

“I tried to remove the water from the house, but I heard a puffing sound  and then a loud bang shook my shack. Water started rising from the shack and I decided to move out of the shack. When I opened the shack the water pushed me inside and by then it was above my waist,” he said.

“I climbed on top of the shack and stayed there until 5am when the water finally dropped. The road and the bridge were covered in water and there was nothing we could do,” said Tshulu.

Tshulu was among the more than 1,000 people who were supposed to be given temporary accommodation at the Gali Thembani Special School. He declined, as he cannot leave his shack unattended.

floods komani

A bridge over the Komani River collapsed as floods hit. (Photo: Supplied)

“I have material and things that I cannot leave at the house. Some may be damaged, but I need to be sure,” he said.

Another resident, Siyabonga Sikula, said the problem stemmed from a part of the Komani River being blocked by the municipality when a shop was built in the area.

“This will continue happening until that part of the river is opened to allow water to move to the other side when the main river is flooded,” he said

He said it was painful seeing children swimming in the early hours of the morning in the dirty floodwater.

“There was nothing we could do to stop the water from flooding the areas,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, scores of displaced people were taken to Thobi Kula Indoor Sports Centre where they were given soup and bread, and buses transported people to the Gali Thembani school to spend the night there.

Councillors from Enoch Mgijima Municipality and members of the Eastern Cape legislature were there to monitor the situation. In a joint statement, Enoch Mgijima Municipality and Chris Hani District Municipality said that the floods affected low-lying areas in Komani and a disaster management team was helping to evacuate those in danger. There had been no reports of fatalities.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Extreme weather on the way — and events like this are likely to become more frequent

Joint operations committee

Chris Hani District Municipality (CHDM) spokesperson Bulelwa Ganyaza said the municipality had activated a joint operations committee “to deliberate on interventions to counter the drastic effects of the floods that befell the area”.

Stakeholders included various local government departments, the SAPS, emergency personnel, Gift of the Givers and the local municipality.

“Around 1,000 people, including about 123 children and 24 infants, are currently housed at Gali Thembani facility. The number is expected to rise, as the rain continues unabated,” she said.

“The Life Queenstown Private Hospital and Queens Casino are adversely affected, compelling the hospital to relocate patients to nearby hospitals. CHDM teams and volunteers worked tirelessly to drain water from the two premises using high-pressure pumps,” Ganyaza said. 

floods komani hospital

The Life Queenstown Private Hospital was closed by the flooding. (Photo: Supplied)

Life Healthcare Border-Kei regional executive manager Mathews Moavodi confirmed that the ground floor of the Life Queenstown Private Hospital had been flooded.

“All emergency protocols were properly followed as soon as the incident occurred, and all patients and employees are safe. Patients who were due to be discharged today were discharged,” he said. 

“Emergency treatment is sustained and all essential services are functional. Emergency clean-up operations are in progress to restore hospital services as soon as possible,” he said.

The DA’s Enoch Mgijima constituency leader, Jane Cowley, said the floods had disabled generators at both of the town’s hospitals, putting patients’ lives at risk.

floods komani

Streets disappeared after the Komani River burst its banks. (Photo: Supplied)

“One generator at the Frontier hospital, which services the maternity ward as well as the ICU and theatre, has malfunctioned, while the generator servicing the maternity unit at the privately owned Life Queenstown has also been taken offline due to the flooding,” she said. 

“There are now no maternity homes in the town that are operational during power outages. Surgeries cannot be performed and babies born will not have access to additional care such as incubators or ventilators,” she said.

She said patients at Life Queenstown had been transferred to East London.

“I have written to the public enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan, to request that given the circumstances, Komani immediately be exempted from load shedding for a period of 72 hours or until the generators at both hospitals can be repaired and services can return to normal,” said Cowley. 

“It is vital that all steps possible are taken to ensure the continued operation of both hospitals, especially as the city is currently dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster and casualty admissions could increase because of the flooding,” she said. DM/OBP

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