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Freak Cape ‘landspout’ blows roofs off and creates domestic havoc

Freak Cape ‘landspout’ blows roofs off and creates domestic havoc
Harsh winter rain, flooding and gale force winds rocked Cape Town, leaving a trail of destruction across the city, most notably in Hanover Park and Wolwerivier in the Cape Farms area where housing structures were severely damaged and communities at a loss. (Photo: supplied)

On Friday 25 August, residents of Hanover Park in Cape Town woke to what was described as a ‘landspout’ ripping through houses along Athry Walk and Phillians Walk, blowing roofs off at least 30 formal and informal housing structures. Like a tornado, a landspout also rotates, is usually fast-moving and can be damaging. However, landspouts are much weaker and smaller in scale and form from the ground up, rather than from a cloud to the ground

Since the early hours of the morning, Cape Town was pelted by heavy winter rain, flooding, and gale-force winds that left a trail of destruction across the city. But most notably in Hanover Park and Wolwerivier in the Cape Farms area, where houses were severely damaged and communities left reeling.

Ridwaan Domingo, a resident from Athry Walk, whose roof was blown off, told Daily Maverick: “At about 7.30, I was standing by the window getting ready for work, and was busy greeting my family good morning, when I saw something twisting in front of me like a dark cloud. It started coming closer and closer to our front gate and I thought in a panic, wait: is this thing coming towards us?”

Domingo ran outside and joined masses of people standing in the street staring at all the houses that had their roofs blown off – at least 10 houses in his street alone.

Cape Town was left with a trail of destruction. (Photo: supplied)

Words fail for what happened

Looking at where his roof used to be, Domingo said it happened completely out of the blue. “I can’t even explain what actually happened,” he said. 

With nine people living on the property, Domingo says his family members will probably sleep over with other relatives and friends, but he will stay at the house and guard their belongings and home during the night.

“I feel so sad about what happened, but we must thank God that we are all alive and safe.”

Hanover Park on 25 August in Cape Town. It is reported that three people were injured and multiple buildings damaged when the strong winds battered parts of Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

In an update by the City of Cape Town, Mayco member for Safety and Security JP Smith said gale-force winds affected properties in Athry Walk  and Phillians Walk in Hanover Park, which resulted in roofs being blown off and damage to properties. Three people sustained minor injuries.

Emergency City services concluded that 20 formal houses and 10 backyard dwellings had been damaged. Emergency sheltering was offered at the AME Church in Hanover Park. 

Roofs were also blown off properties in Wolwerivier in the Cape Farms area. Smith confirmed that 42 structures in Wolwerivier were damaged, and three completely destroyed. A total of 81 people in the area are affected.

Robin-Lee Johnson in her flat in Hanover Park, where the roof was ripped off by strong winds on 25 August 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

A rotating landspout

After investigations, including analysis of photos and videos of the incident, the South African Weather Service (SAWS) determined that the wind phenomenon that hit Hanover Park was a landspout. 

“Like a tornado, a landspout also rotates, is usually fast-moving and can be damaging. However, landspouts are much weaker and smaller in scale and form from the ground up, rather than from a cloud to the ground,” said a SAWS statement.

SAWS forecasters Elani Heyneke and Kanyisa Makubalo said that after evaluating the meteorological conditions and the damage caused by the Hanover Park landspout, it was determined that it was an EF-O landspout. 

“This is particularly related to the blown-off roof tiles. The EF rating refers to the strength (estimated wind speed) of the wind phenomenon by considering the damage severity to structures and trees.”

SAWS will conduct further investigations into other wind-related damage over Cape Farms. 

SAWS called the recent wet weather a result of a “well-developed cold front” that made landfall over the south-western parts of the Western Cape. 

“This was the third cold front of a series of cold fronts that affected the Western Cape from the past weekend, which was dominated by cold, windy and wet weather conditions,” the service reported.

Weather prediction for Saturday 26 August

On Saturday, Cape Town will experience a minimum temperature of 9°C and a maximum temperature of 14°C, with a slight breeze of 19 km/h (SSW), 0% rain, as well as cloudy conditions throughout the morning and partly cloudy conditions from afternoon to evening.

A trail of destruction across the city, most notably in Hanover Park and Wolwerivier in the Cape Farms area. (Photo: supplied)

More roof emergencies

Another resident from Athry Walk, Taufiq Haskins, was at work when the incident happened, but returned home after getting emergency calls from his wife. The roof of their home was also blown off.

Haskins and his family remain concerned about their housing and sleeping arrangements for the next few days, as well as about how their roof will get replaced. He said between nine to 15 people live in each of the houses along their road.

“According to my wife, the scene that unfolded was as if it was from a movie because of how horrific it was. But, this is something that was bound to happen because every year for the past 30 years, when the winds come, our whole roof and its support actually lifts up and then comes down again. We have been to the City on numerous occasions but they never came to fix it, and now they are saying it’s up to us to fix the buildings on our own,” Haskins said.

Haskins said they will likely be up all night, and the next few nights, watching over their belongings and home. 

Cape Town was left with a trail of destruction. (Photo: supplied)

Numerous informal settlements flooded

Ali Sablay of Gift of the Givers said, “Our phones have been buzzing since 4am this morning. Numerous informal settlements have been flooded, and roofs blown off. Gift of the Givers teams will assist the affected families with plastic roof sheeting, blankets, mattresses and hot meals.”

Strong winds damaged Hanover Park properties on 25 August. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

As the rain continued to pour down over the exposed houses, Hanover Park humanitarian Roberto Stemmet said: “People just woke up and saw this whirlwind over them, like you see in the American movies. They just saw this wind coming at them, and then roofs started flying, and they flew at one particular angle so it hit exposed houses. It (the wind) came across the field and took off the roofs and even some of the brickwork of the houses.”

Stemmet said these were double storey houses, and the top section is where most of the bedrooms are, “so you can imagine the fright that people got this morning when they woke”.

Communities and various organisations are picking up the pieces, and coming together to organise food, resources and accommodation for those affected for the next few days. DM

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