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Loss and devastation as Coffee Bay residents begin painful recovery following deadly floods

Loss and devastation as Coffee Bay residents begin painful recovery following deadly floods
Tyelinzima High School, made of prefabricated classrooms, in Coffee Bay in the Eastern Cape was completely swept away by flooding last Friday. (Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani)

Eight confirmed dead while the search for two missing people continues.

A distraught uncle from Zithulele Village near Coffee Bay in the Eastern Cape says it was the smell of a decomposing corpse and flies that led the family to his niece’s body after she was swept away during flooding a week ago.

His niece, 18-year-old Andiswa Mazwi, is one of eight people confirmed to have died — and whose bodies have been recovered — following the torrential rains and flooding across the OR Tambo District Municipality since last Friday.

Thousands of families were left stranded and cut off from essential services this week as most roads and bridges have been damaged or swept away. Big trees have been uprooted and debris from damaged homes and belongings lay strewn on the ground. Many learners can’t go to school, particularly those attending Tyelenzima High School as most of the building was swept away. There is still no electricity, water or mobile network.

On Wednesday, Keleke Mazwi of Zithulele Village told GroundUp that the family is thankful that they can get closure by finding Andiswa’s remains; they don’t have enough money to bury the teenager. “My sister has been sitting at home waiting for her daughter’s remains. Although we have found her body, we have no money to bury her. She was a grade 10 learner at Upper Mpaku High School,” he said.

Nophosile Phakamile, who assisted in searching for missing villagers this week, said: “Watching another woman cry for her child is unbearable. These floods have destroyed our lives. As long as there are missing bodies, we will not rest until we find all of them.”


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Note: This map does not include new flooding areas reported this week, but will be updated asap.

Loyiso Ntungwana lived near the Mapuzi River with his wife, six children and grandchild. He described the chaotic night, having to rescue his relatives but regrets not having been able to save his son’s girlfriend who drowned. His homestead was completely destroyed.

“All my children were already sleeping, and their mother was working a night shift… In less than an hour, there was a thunderstorm. Electricity poles got damaged and the whole place went dark. I quickly grabbed my torch and called my sons to wake up,” he said.

Coffee Bay floods

One of the shops near Nenga Bridge in Coffee Bay was badly damaged and surrounding houses were washed away. (Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani)

“I rushed into one of the rondavels and woke my eldest daughter because the water was about knee-deep. I put my [four-year-old] granddaughter on my back and took her to my neighbour’s house. I came back and the water was at the level of the windows.” Ntungwana said he found his two sons and the son’s girlfriend on the roof of the main house. He said all three had jumped into the “strong current” and when he tried to help, he too was swept away and ended up about 500 metres away when he held onto a tree.

“My brother arrived and assisted me in rescuing my two daughters, 12 and 15, who were trapped in one of the rondavels. My wife cried uncontrollably for our children … Our house was covered in water.” He managed to save his daughters.

Ntungwana said they later found out that his sons had survived but the girlfriend did not. “This flood destroyed my home and left us traumatised. I don’t want to live here anymore. But I have no money to rebuild my home in another place,” he said.

Ntungwana’s son, Abongile, 21, said he was relieved that his girlfriend’s body was recovered. “I last saw her when we were on top of the roof running away from the floods. I asked her whether she can swim. My brother jumped and she also panicked and jumped into the water. I then also jumped into the water and was swept near the spaza shop.

“I was scared of her family’s reaction but they told me it was not my fault. But I’m heartbroken,” he said.

Coffee Bay community leader, Zolile Rixi, said everything is at a standstill. “Lives, businesses and jobs have been destroyed. There is no electricity, water and network. Six villages have been cut out since the Nenga Bridge collapsed. People from Hole in the Wall are also affected. Thousands of learners from this side cannot access the schools.”

Coffee Bay floods

Debris and uprooted trees blocked part of the damaged bridge. (Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani)

“We have about 10 cooperatives with over 2,000 people, mainly youth, who were being trained here to become divers and for farming. The place was fully equipped. We also had about four big refrigerated containers used by the divers to store the crayfish that was sold in Cape Town. But all those containers were swept away by floods.”

Rixi added: “There are no fridges to store our food. People cannot go to the clinics, work and access their grants. The municipality is still busy trying to create an alternative route.”

Zimkhitha Macingwane, spokesperson for the OR Tambo District Municipality revealed that all the local municipalities in the district were affected by floods. She said eight people have died and two are still missing.

“More than 500km of road is damaged with at least 10 collapsed bridges at Coffee Bay. The flood victims are sharing space with their relatives,” she said.

Gift of the Givers is assisting flood victims with food. DM

Tyelinzima High School

The remains of Tyelinzima High School. (Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani)

First published by GroundUp.

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