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Durban ‘Tornado’ terror – ‘One moment I was inside a house, the next moment I was outside’

Durban ‘Tornado’ terror – ‘One moment I was inside a house, the next moment I was outside’
Corrugated iron sheets hang from electricity poles near badly damaged houses after the tornado in Inanda, Durban. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Seven people were reported missing and at least 150 victims registered their homes as being destroyed in Tuesday’s devastating storm in KZN, while community members began to pick up the pieces of their lives and the little that was left of their belongings.

By yesterday, at least 150 people had registered with the Department of Human Settlements as having had their homes destroyed in the devastating storm in the Durban area on Tuesday afternoon, 27 June.

Following public confusion on how to describe the storms and reports that it appeared to be a tornado, the South African Weather Service (SAWS)  issued a statement late on Wednesday to confirm that the storm was in fact a “landspout”.

The storm was still raging on Tuesday afternoon when video clips and pictures began circulating on social media. Some clips showed women and children trapped in their homes, and debris, including corrugated iron sheets, doors and windows mixed with other objects flying overhead. Some commuters were trapped in taxis and other vehicles.

tornado terror

Houses roofs were blown off in Dube Village at Inanda during a storm that demolished hundreds of houses. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

After the storm had subsided, heavy rains and storms continued throughout the afternoon and night, causing further damage to roads, houses and other infrastructure.

Although an uneasy calm prevailed on Wednesday, there was no water or electricity in many parts of Durban.

Inanda, Dube Village and Bhambayi informal settlements were among the worst-affected areas. Other areas affected include Phoenix, Ntuzuma, Lindelani, KwaMashu, Overport, Shallcross, Pinetown, Mayville, KwaMakhutha, eFolweni and large parts of the South Coast.

Seven people reported missing

At least seven people were reported missing after the storms. Three, including a small child, are said to have been swept away in Cato Crest, about 3km west of the Durban city centre. Here, residents said the victims were swept away into the nearby Umkhumbane River.

tornado terror

Even heavy goods containers were not spared. Some were swept away with people inside. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

Residents in these and other affected areas said they witnessed unprecedented scenes of zinc roofs and other debris flying overhead during the storm, sometimes striking trees and electricity and water infrastructure. Even heavy goods containers were not spared, with some swept away with people inside.

Vehicles were seen floating along some roads. On the N2 highway near the old Durban airport – an area that often becomes flooded – cars, vans and trucks were also seen floating, with drivers and passengers escaping with whatever they could salvage.

tornado terror

Residents set about assessing the damage and making what repairs they could. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

The state-owned rail commuter company, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, suspended all its train services in Durban. It said it would continue to monitor the situation and would later conduct inspections of its infrastructure before deciding when to resume train services.

‘Roofs, doors flying all over the place’

In Bhambayi informal settlement, 36 residents whose homes were washed away or destroyed are sheltering at the local community hall, and the government has promised to help all who were affected.

Zethu Buthelezi (31) was still salvaging whatever food she could, along with beds, clothes and other belongings, from her modest three-room home.

Buthelezi runs a stall where she sells cigarettes, oranges, apples, vetkoek and other small items on the main road in Bhambayi, a stone’s throw from her home.

“When the storms started I left the stall and rushed home. When I got home I found my daughter and we decided to sit the storm out, but it wasn’t to be. The house began shaking and the roof was pulling away. I told my daughter, we must get out of the house, and when we came out, we saw neighbours’ corrugated roofs, wooden doors and other items flying all over the place. We were scared,” she said. They hid at the home of one of her neighbours.

Her stall was destroyed and she lost her stock, which had been damaged by the rain, as well as her groceries, furniture and clothes.

She is not the only one.

tornado terror

Houses were left with no roofs in Dube Village at Inanda after a landspout swept through the area, demolishing hundreds of houses. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Sphiwe Ngema (25), also of Bhambayi, was busy helping people to replace the zinc roof on his cabin. He said he was sitting in his room when the storm started and pulled away his roof.

“One moment I was inside a house, the next moment I was outside,” he said, describing how he was forced outside where he saw a huge tornado circulating in the air, sucking away peoples’ roofs – including his – and other debris.

“I was here during the April 2022 floods, but even as horrific as those floods were, I had not seen something like I had seen yesterday (Tuesday),” he said, adding that he and his other neighbours were seeking urgent government assistance and intervention.

Government delegation

KZN Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, national Minister of Human Settlements Mmamoloko Kubayi, KZN MEC for Human Settlements KK Nkosi and eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda led a government delegation to the storm-ravaged area on Wednesday.

Kubayi told journalists in Inanda that 150 people had so far registered as having their homes destroyed. She warned people not to build near rivers and other unsafe areas prone to flooding.

“We have a 24-hour turn-around time in terms of assessment – just recording where the disaster happened. So the figures we have are not solid figures or finalised figures, ” the minister said.

tornado terror

Heavy rainfall led to flooding that damaged roads. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

Dube-Ncube committed the provincial government to do everything in its power to assist the victims.

“Only 36 people slept in the hall; we need to establish whether the people that are here do not have a roof over their heads. If their houses are completely damaged then alternative accommodation will be found for them,” Dube-Ncube said.

“However, it will start with temporary accommodation, then permanent accommodation,” she said.

S’bu Zikode, leader of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo, said they were disheartened by the fact that people had lost their lives and others were missing, presumed dead. 

He said the victims were “poor people who live in shacks, where they are not living by choice but are forced to live so that they could be closer to their workplace so that they can work and be able to feed their families”. DM

This article was updated on Thursday 29 June 2023, after the SAWS confirmed that the storm was in fact a landspout, not a tornado. The two look very alike, but their formative process are different.


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