Our Burning Planet


KZN tornado death toll rises to 11 as relief efforts continue

KZN tornado death toll rises to 11 as relief efforts continue
In Tongaat and outlying areas in KZN, the tornado on Monday hit homes and schools in the area. (Photo: Samatha Meyrick at IPSS Medical Rescue)

Communities and relief organisations are providing hot meals, shelter and medical assistance to hundreds of people displaced by the two tornados that tore through KwaZulu-Natal on Monday.

Two powerful tornadoes tore through communities outside Durban on Monday, leaving destruction in their wake. At least 11 people died, hundreds were displaced and homes and schools were destroyed. Some people have lost everything. 

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More than 1,200 people have been displaced after two tornadoes struck KZN on Monday. (Photo: Samatha Meyrick at IPSS Medical Rescue)

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In Tongaat and outlying areas in KZN, the tornado on Monday hit several homes and schools in the area. (Photo: Samatha Meyrick at IPSS Medical Rescue)

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The Tongaat area, in the north of Durban, has recorded the most incidents in the aftermath of the tornados, with several homes severely damaged, roofs blown off, and trees falling on electricity lines causing power outages. (Photo: Samatha Meyrick at IPSS Medical Rescue)

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) advised that although a singular weather event cannot be directly correlated to climate change, climatologists agreed that these types of weather systems may become more frequent and intense due to a warming climate.

The worst damage was reported in Tongaat north of Durban, where the larger tornado left residents of the town reeling. 

Relief efforts are under way with communities and organisations providing hot meals, shelter and medical assistance to those in need.

“We had teams out at the affected areas assisting the victims and removing uprooted trees… our teams were busy assisting to chainsaw the fallen trees, trying to free victims from these areas so that they could get medical assistance,” said Yogan Naidoo, operations officer of the Tongaat Community Forum.

Naidoo and the forum have been assisting with coordinating relief efforts across communities and with governmental and non-government organisations. They have set up a disaster management centre at the Vishwaroop temple in Tongaat Central, which was also used during previous flooding disasters in the town.

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Disaster Management teams are conducting assessments and coordinating humanitarian efforts for the affected families. (Photo: Provincial Government of KwaZulu-Natal)

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Disaster Management teams are conducting assessments and coordinating humanitarian efforts for the affected families. (Photo: Provincial Government of KwaZulu-Natal)

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KwaZulu-Natal Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube led a government delegation to various areas in the eThekwini Metro for a report on the extent of the damage and to ensure a coordinated rapid response from the government. (Photo: Provincial Government of KwaZulu-Natal)

“It was shocking. Tongaat has suffered quite a bit because of major flooding but this is something we never experienced before. It’s complete decimation and devastation… it’s really shocking. The communities are still trying to get to grips with what happened,” said Naidoo.

“When you walk through the area, the tornado has cleaned out the entire infrastructure. It was a really severe phenomenon that no one in our area has ever experienced before.”

Some of those left homeless were taken to stay with relatives. Others unable to get help were housed at community halls and schools.

“There are also a few créches in the area where some residents were spending the night. Our teams prepared hot meals and water for those affected and through the kind generosity of organisations like Islamia Relief Durban, Gift of the Givers and Divine Life Society, together with policing forums from Arena Park, Chatsworth and Phoenix, we were able to distribute blankets and mattresses to these communities,” Naidoo said.


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Hlengiwe Ntuli peers from the shattered windows of her home in Magwaveni, Tongaat. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

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Tongaat tornado. (Photo: Ethekwini municipality)

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Dejected Magwaveni, Tongaat, residents sit among salvaged furniture after the tornado. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

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Tongaat tornado. (Photo: Ethekwini municipality)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fatalities rise as hail, flooding, snow, two tornadoes, heavy rainfall and high winds hit SA

Naidoo said they were also assisting to secure homes that had been damaged.

“Some organisations have also called us, wanting to provide medical assistance for those who suffered injuries. They will be coming today to do medical assessments,” Naidoo said.

Naidoo said people could drop off non-perishable items, bottles of water, mattresses, blankets and clothing at the Vishwaroop temple in Tongaat.

Search and rescue operations were still under way on Tuesday for people trapped in their homes by debris and fallen trees. 

“We’re trying to rescue people that are stuck in the houses and get them through to medical facilities. It’s been absolutely crazy… navigating through trees, branches, any object on the road, just trying to get through to patients so they can get to hospital fast.

“Last night, we did a few evacuations. Due to poor lighting and electricity being out, we had live wires in most of the locations so it’s unsafe to enter. Today we got search and rescue and the electricity department to cordon off the live wires, now our guys are going in,” Trevlig Pillay, a paramedic at IPSS Medical Rescue, told Daily Maverick.

Pillay said their vehicle had been damaged in a violent hailstorm. 

“There is going to be a lot of stuff needed in affected areas… some people lost everything,” Pillay said.

Mid-year exams interrupted

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Crawford International North Coast College in Westbrook, Tongaat is one of several schools damaged by the tornado. (Photo: Crawford International North Coast)

Several north coast schools were also damaged, according to the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) in KwaZulu-Natal.  

Naptosa provincial chief executive Thirona Moodley said they were aware of one educator who lost her life at Mitchford Primary School. Seatides Combined School was obliterated as it was in the path of the tornado.

“It is unfortunate that during this period in the academic year, schools are engaged in mid-year exams and this will severely impact some schools,” Moodley said.

Naptosa appealed to the government to act decisively and determine the extent of damage, identify the schools and provide contingency measures.

The natural disaster has affected mid-year exams. “Learners are coming from homes that have been flooded and damaged, so it’s not just the damage to the schools but also the learners who had their books destroyed, school uniforms destroyed,” said Moodley.

She said schools would have to reschedule some exams.

Samantha Smit, campus head at Crawford International North Coast, said the tornado struck their school just after 4pm on Monday. At that time, only a few boarding students were on campus.

Smit said the school took every precaution to ensure the wellbeing of the students and to keep them as calm as possible during the storm.

The school sustained some structural damage. 

“The experience was distressing for everyone involved, but we are grateful that the situation was managed as safely as possible given the circumstances. Fortunately, none of our students or teachers was injured during the storm,” Smit said. 

Disaster assessments

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Fallen trees next to a storm-damaged home in Sandfield, Tongaat. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

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A mangled metal roof sheet wrapped around a tree in the Sandfield section of Tongaat. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

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Storm damage in Krishnapuri Road, Tongaat. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

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Tongaat tornado. (Photo: Ethekwini municipality)

Disaster management, the KZN government and organisations including the Red Cross, Al-Imdaad Foundation, Gift of the Givers and IPSS Medical Rescue teams are conducting assessments and coordinating humanitarian efforts for the affected families.

Preliminary reports on Tuesday afternoon indicated that at least 11 people had died in the storm, seven of whom were from Tongaat. The other fatalities were reported in Nquthu, Eshowe and KwaHlabisa.

In addition, more than 55 people suffered minor to moderate injuries and were receiving medical treatment on Tuesday, while at least 120 people were displaced. Three temporary shelters have been established.

Visiting the affected areas, KZN premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube said disaster teams were providing immediate relief, including accommodation for displaced residents in government buildings. 

Tongaat was the most affected area, with hundreds of houses severely damaged or destroyed. 

Public infrastructure such as schools, roads, community halls and healthcare facilities were affected in Umgababa south of Durban, and in Eshowe, Utrecht, Osizweni and KwaHlabisa.

Electricity poles, transformers and power lines were also damaged, leaving many areas in the eThekwini metro without power. Repairs are under way and all areas are expected to be fully restored by the end of the week. 

Dube-Ncube said the heavy rain also resulted in higher levels of turbidity in raw water abstracted from the Tongaat waterworks, which were shut down for a few hours.  

Warming climate

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Severe weather struck several parts of South Africa about two-and-a-half hours before a tornado-like storm hit Tongaat and other parts of the KZN Coast. (Source: SA Weather Service)

On Monday, SAWS confirmed the two tornadoes affecting Newcastle, Utrecht, Ballito and Tongaat.

At the time, a cut-off low weather system was moving through the country causing heavy rainfall and significant flooding in parts of the Eastern Cape. SAWS said the eastern parts of the country, particularly KwaZulu-Natal, experienced warm and moist conditions.

Then, later on Monday, the atmosphere became unstable when these cold and warm air masses met, resulting in a line of thunderstorms developing over the western parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

“Severe thunderstorms developed within this line, causing strong to damaging winds, small hail to large hail in places, heavy rainfall and at least two observed tornadoes. This line of storms continued to move east over the province in the afternoon, while exiting and moving offshore during the evening,” SAWS said.

The weather service explained that the first tornado occurred between Newcastle and Utrecht over the western interior of KwaZulu-Natal early in the afternoon on Monday. Initial investigations indicated that it began as a “rope” tornado, which developed further into a “cone” tornado.

“Rope and cone tornadoes get their names from their shapes. These tornadoes are generally narrower closer to the ground and wider at the base of the cloud,” SAWS said.

Another larger tornado developed later in the afternoon around Tongaat and moved towards the coast near Westbrook and Ballito, where it caused significant damage.

“This tornado was stronger and larger (wedge-like). Wedge tornadoes are usually larger and wider from the surface to the cloud base or, in other words, they are wider than they are tall. Wedge/wide tornadoes are often (but not always) categorised as strong tornadoes.”

The weather service said on Tuesday that South Africa does get tornadoes from time to time, particularly when large and intense weather systems affect the country.

SAWS said that although a single weather event cannot be directly correlated to climate change, climatologists agreed that these types of weather systems might become more frequent and intense in future due to a warming climate.

“The tornadoes’ strength, damage and impacts will be further investigated and findings will be released upon the completion of the post-severe weather report,” SAWS said. DM

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