Two dead after high winds and wild seas wreak havoc on Eastern and Western Cape coasts
High waves, strong winds and the spring tide combined into a nightmare for coastal communities in the Western and Eastern Cape on Saturday and Sunday. Two people died, a famous rock formation was destroyed, hikers had to be evacuated from the Otter Trail and severe damage was inflicted on property, including some well-known seaside restaurants and infrastructure along the coastline.
Two people have died, and homeowners, businesses and municipalities along the Western and Eastern Cape coastlines were counting the costs on Sunday after damaging waves fuelled by a spring tide and very strong winds resulted in a perfect storm.
In Wilderness, Western Cape, a 93-year-old woman died after she was swept off her feet by a wave while she was watching the surf from a parking lot. The Kouga Municipality also confirmed that the body of an unknown man, estimated to be 68 years old, was found at Aston Bay near Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape.
Pheelo Oliphant, spokesperson for the Eastern Cape’s Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), said there had been no reports of people being swept away by the rough sea, so at this stage they were not sure where the body had come from.
Southern Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Chris Spies said they had not opened any cases in relation to the woman in Wilderness being swept away. He referred queries to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).
What is a perfect storm?
On Friday, the South African Weather Service issued an alert for damaging winds that would continue into the weekend. According to the Eastern Cape Department of Local Government, alerts were issued for gale-force winds with speeds of 60-70km/h and significant high waves of 5-7 metres.
Garth Sampson, from the South African Weather Service, said wind gusts reached top speeds of 95km/h in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.
Dr Gary Koekemoer, a Gqeberha-based environmentalist and one of the city leaders developing a resilience plan for the metro against climate change, said Nelson Mandela Bay last had a “perfect storm” similar to this in 2008.
A perfect storm is caused by a strong low-pressure system, storm winds and spring tide coinciding.
Koekemoer said he “slipped in a quick swim” between storm tides.
“I don’t think this storm was caused by climate change, but as sea volumes rise these storm surges would get more severe and more frequent because of climate change,” he said.
On Sunday afternoon the NSRI issued a further warning for a “new moon” spring tide along the Western Cape and Eastern Cape coastlines.
On Saturday, there were reports of storm surges causing high and damaging waves along the Western Cape, including areas such as Kalk Bay and Gordon’s Bay in the City of Cape Town. In George and Mossel Bay and the southern Cape, roads and beaches were closed.
South African Weather Service forecaster Lehlohonolo Thobela said spring tide was a common occurrence in South Africa. He also confirmed the disruptive weather would last into Sunday afternoon and Monday morning.
Thobela said warnings of damaging winds and destruction to infrastructure along the coast were issued in the southern and eastern parts of the country.
In George, the municipality has closed all beaches to pedestrians and vehicles owing to the high tides and rough water conditions. In an update on Sunday morning, the municipality’s Disaster Management and service teams were on standby on high alert and were “closely monitoring the situation”.
More high tide surges were forecast for Sunday afternoon, with swells of up to 2.9 metres. “Therefore, all-out cleaning and mop-up operations are not being conducted for the day. However, the Municipal Community Services will clear the debris,” the municipality said.
Damage to infrastructure was being assessed and some areas near George’s beaches were without power.
In Wilderness, the Knysna-Plett Herald reported that the NSRI had confirmed that a 93-year-old woman died when she was swept off her feet at Leentjiesklip.
City of Cape Town
By Sunday morning, the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre said the coastal areas around Gordon’s Bay and Kalk Bay experienced “excessive” waves and strong winds, which had impacted on communities.
Disaster management teams had started impact assessments in those areas, and initial assessments indicated that garage doors on eight properties in the Bikini Beach areas of Gordon’s Bay were damaged, with sand and debris covering the affected areas. There were also reports of damage to the St James tidal pool, with excessive sand and rocks being deposited in subway tunnels.
No injuries or deaths have been reported in the city. “The City cautions residents to avoid coastal areas as a precaution,” a statement read.
Joy van Eeden, who lives on the beach in Gordon’s Bay, said she and a group of friends were at a local yacht club when she came home to charge her phone. While at home, she saw the rough sea conditions and decided to move her car into her garage.
“Then I saw a bigger wave.” She then told her son’s friend to move his car into a garage to prevent it from being swept away.
“Other cars were not so lucky,” Van Eeden said, as a bakkie had been caught in the waves.
Overnight, the rough waves and strong winds bent her garage door (made of wood and steel), “breaking it out of the hinges”. In addition, her freezer, located in the garage, was floating in the water.
When Van Eeden woke up this morning, she saw “lots of debris” near her house. She said Solid Waste teams were busy cleaning up the mess.
On Saturday, videos spread of damage to the Brass Bell, a beach restaurant in Kalk Bay. The City said assessments showed that seating areas had been damaged, windows were broken and the indoor tidal pool was filled with sand and rocks. One person sustained minor injuries.
Still Bay and Jongensfontein
Hessequa mayor Grant Riddles said coastal areas in the municipality were damaged, including the Still Bay harbour, and roads were damaged in areas such as Witsand and Gouritzmond. Municipal teams had already been dispatched to start cleanup operations, he confirmed.
John Wills, from the Jongensfontein coastal settlement in the Hessequa municipality, described Saturday’s waves as “like an angry sea”. Wills, who is a member of the local ratepayers association, said some of the residents had said “they’ve never seen a sea as bad as yesterday”.
Totting up the damage, Wills said two cars had been swept into the sea and only one had been recovered. A pedestrian pathway – made of stone and concrete, had been destroyed. “All of that has been ripped,” he said.
Residences close to the sea were damaged, including garage doors. Debris was strewn across roads and electrical boxes were damaged, which left parts of the settlement without electricity. Wills described the waves as being 20-25 metres high.
He said the Hessequa municipality sent teams to clean the roads and fix the disrupted power supply. Electricity supply was “fairly close” to being completely restored, he said on Sunday afternoon. Wills said clean-up operations were under way and could take up to the rest of the week while fixing the damage could take up to six months.
In Mossel Bay, the municipality says mop-up operations will start on Monday, 18 September. An initial damage risk assessment found substantial damage to access points at several beaches. Damage to private property in close proximity to the ocean was also noted.
Public access to First and Second beaches in Dana Bay and Glentana Beach remained closed. The Mossel Bay municipal environmental team has reported superficial damage to beaches including Dias and Klein Brak– which included vegetative dunes along the coast being removed to some degree. In general, sand and debris have been washed on to some parking areas and roads near the ocean.
The Western Cape Department of Local Government said no incidents were reported in the Overstrand municipality (Hermanus, Betty’s Bay and surrounds).
In the West Coast District Municipality, Saldanha Bay was affected by seawater on the roads and a whale washed up at Dwarskersbos.
Nelson Mandela Bay
In Nelson Mandela Bay, all beaches in the municipality remained open, but the metro issued a warning to the public to be cautious.
“The disruptive weather resulted in access being blocked in some beaches, and the Metro is still assessing the damage caused in some of its beaches,” said spokesperson Mamela Ndamase.
The metro’s Mayoral Committee Member for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Bassie Kamana, said the mop-up operation started on Sunday morning following notable damage on Saturday.
“Everyone should be careful along the coastal area. Our teams including lifeguards are on the ground to ensure safety around our beaches. But we really warn residents not to swim today; the weather conditions are not friendly. We will have a meeting on Monday morning to assess the extent of the damage caused, but our teams already started this morning cleaning the parking areas that were affected by the waves,” he said.
James Prinsloo, who is the electrician at the Willows Beach Resort in Gqeberha, lives close to Willows Gate Number 5. His house was flooded and several wendy houses on the premises were pulled into the sea. Several caravans were also destroyed by the storm surges.
“I am just thankful that this thing didn’t catch us at night,” he said. “We were warned, but we never thought it would be this bad. Every now and again, the sea will come over the road and there will be foam in the parking lot and so on,” he said.
“I have this little kitten called Mia. I was working in the house and suddenly I heard her scream and she climbed on the roof trusses. You know a cat and water are not friends. And we just saw it coming, and coming, and not stopping, and coming and we ran. We had to be very quick to pull our cars away. There is a lot of damage here to our ablution blocks. Only the chassis is left of some of the caravans.”
“I have been cleaning all day. The house is full of mud and seaweed. You can see the sea ran through it.”
Tsitsikamma and Stormsriver
SANParks spokesperson Phokela Lebea said the storm surge and a high spring tide caused severe damage to the temporary restaurant, operated by Cattle Baron, at the Storms River Mouth camp in the Tsitsikamma Park. It will remain closed.
Untouched Adventures, operating from Storms River Mouth, said this past weekend’s seas were the wildest they’d seen in decades, and a few of their kayaks were now “floating to Antarctica”.
“All guests on the Otter Trail have been successfully evacuated through designated escape routes, ensuring their safety throughout the storm surge. We appreciate their cooperation and understanding. The Waterfall hiking trail and the Mouth trails [suspension bridge] have been temporarily closed. This decision has been made to ensure the safety of our visitors,” Lebea said.
“Nature’s Valley Camp remains temporarily closed due to flooding. Park management is actively addressing the situation and conducting necessary assessments. We are committed to reopening the camp as soon as it is safe to do so.
“The Wilderness and Knysna sections of the Garden Route National Park are also affected by the storm surge and high spring tide with minimal damage to infrastructure. The parks are accessible to the public and remain on high alert. Park management is currently assessing the damage,” he said.
“No injuries are currently reported in the Garden Route National Park. Members of the public are urged to exercise caution when visiting this area and also check the South African Weather Service for weather alerts and warnings.”
On Sunday afternoon, the NSRI issued a further warning for extremely rough sea conditions at high tide in Jeffreys Bay. People were asked to stay off the beaches and stay away from jetties.
The body of a yet-to-be-identified man, estimated to be 68 years old, also washed up at Aston Bay.
Kouga municipality issued a warning that the Aston Bay Causeway was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic as it is considered a high-risk area. On Sunday afternoon the municipality started work repairing the spit that was flooded, leaving the St Francis Bay canals exposed.
Jeffreys Bay’s well-known Walskipper beachfront restaurant was flooded and has been temporarily closed for repairs.
According to a statement from Bushman’s River/Kenton on Sea Tourism, the storm surge on Saturday night destroyed the iconic Carriage Rock that had been a beacon in Kenton-on-Sea for decades.
Port Alfred’s CBD was flooded and the Ndlambe Municipality sent out a flood warning on Saturday.
“The Ndlambe Municipality has closed off some affected streets in the CBD. We emphasise that motorists should not drive through the water. At this stage, it is not possible to determine the extent of the damage, but Ndlambe Municipal officials will continue to monitor the situation,” the municipality said.
Ocean Way in Gonubie was closed owing to storm damage and strong winds fuelled a fire that destroyed at least 50 informal homes in Nompumelelo, outside Beacon Bay in East London. No injuries or fatalities were reported.
Eastern Cape Disaster Management
Pheelo Oliphant, the Eastern Cape Cogta spokesperson, said they hadn’t received any official notifications of damage.
“The provincial Disaster Management Centre in the Eastern Cape has not officially reported accidents arising from the sea storms that occurred over the weekend,” Oliphant said.
The NSRI has called for the public to continue being vigilant.
Andrew Ingram, NSRI drowning prevention manager, said at least three pink buoys washed up in Wilderness and one in Kleinmond where some coastal damage had occurred. The buoys will be placed back on duty on their poles.
“The NSRI are appealing to the public to report any pink buoys, found washed up, to our Emergency Operations Centre on the NSRI Emergencies-Only 24-hour contact number 0870949774.
“We appeal to the public and maritime community to be cautious and to stay safe around the coast where heavy sea swells and gale-force winds may affect the coastline,” he added. DM