EASTERN CAPE DELUGE
Port St Johns flood crisis leaves more than 1,000 displaced and waterworks, bridges destroyed
President Cyril Ramaphosa was flown by helicopter to visit the Eastern Cape coastal town of Port St Johns on Tuesday as continuous flooding created a growing humanitarian crisis, threatening the livelihoods and water security of hundreds of people. Roads have been seriously damaged and a water treatment plant was destroyed.
Trucks loaded with building materials to provide temporary shelters for more than a thousand people displaced by floods in Port St Johns carefully made their way to the flood-ravaged town on Thursday after some roads reopened.
It has been a week since a second devastating flood hit the popular seaside town and many communities have been cut off after 82 gravel roads and 18 bridges were destroyed.
The province received R13.3-million to repair flood damage in Port St Johns specifically, but Pheelo Oliphant, the spokesperson for the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC, Zolile Williams, said more would be needed.
Repair costs ‘gigantic’
“Figures continue to escalate as assessments are done daily,” he said.
“The province has not received the allocation from the previous disaster of 2022. There is a backlog. The cumulative results from the previous floods, coupled with last week’s disastrous floods, are gigantic.
“Mop-up operations are under way and 1,000 people who were displaced have been given temporary shelter in the Green Farm Youth Centre in Port St Johns.”
So far, disaster management teams have found 112 bridges that have been washed away, 39 roads destroyed, 45 damaged stormwater drainage systems and many pontoons, water treatment works and streets that have been affected.
Despite having to look for food and clean drinking water, and drying blankets and clothes, flood victims came out in their hundreds to see President Ramaphosa on Tuesday.
The President visited the damaged R61 road and displaced communities sheltering at Port St Johns Youth Centre. He promised that temporary structures would be erected for communities on land identified by the traditional leadership.
Mkhosana Sisipho (22) and her four-year-old daughter lost their home in the flood. She said it was difficult for her child to sleep at the Youth Centre.
“The conditions we are living in here with children is difficult… there is no privacy. There is no food for the children. We are sharing a bed and mattress, but I have no other option because my home was completely destroyed. Everything inside the house was damaged,” she said.
Sisipho, from Green Farm, pleaded with the Port St Johns municipality to provide them with land to build houses, saying they were at risk of losing everything if they continued staying at Green Farm.
Zimkhitha Wole, 24, said she was happy that she had a place to sleep.
“We are not sure what we are going to do because our shack is completely destroyed by floods, but we have hope that the President will fulfil his promise of new shelters,” she said.
Another flood victim, Keenan Pearce, said he hoped things would change in Port St Johns after the President’s visit.
“I have a lot of hope because the president has visited the area… maybe now things will change. Every time it rains, it floods there by us in Green Farm.
“I will return to Green Farm because that is where my home is… I was born in Green Farm and I grew up there so I do not have another place to go to. I will only move out if the government is providing us with vacant land,” he added.
When the President arrived, he was welcomed by a group of cheering residents outside the town hall.
“Climate change is a reality,” Ramaphosa said.
“Even roads that were well built are destroyed, but the worst part is that the homes and houses of many of our people here have also been destroyed. We have to be more prepared for disasters like these… to be more alive to town planning, because a number of people have built in wetland areas… on slopes, so our planning at the municipal level needs to be a lot better than it is,” he added.
Ramaphosa said the government would ask the South African Defence Force to assist in rebuilding the bridges.
“I also want to invite investors, because Port St Johns is just the most beautiful municipality in South Africa,” the President said.
Gift of the Givers
Ali Sablay from Gift of the Givers said they were working around the clock to get aid to flood victims.
“This is the fourth time in the past year that we are providing assistance in Port St Johns,” he said.
“But this flood was huge. Gravel roads were hit by mudslides, cutting off many communities. Seven more bridges were washed away. Businesses can’t reopen because of flood damage.”
He said one of their main concerns was to get drinking water to people as the waterworks had washed away.
“A large percentage of people have been left without clean drinking water,” Sablay said.
He said teams were delivering food parcels, toiletries and blankets to close to 700 people housed in community halls.
“Recovery will take months,” he said.
He said they would also render assistance at a school that had been flooded, but that it had not yet been possible to reach the area. DM/MC