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Road collapses, evacuations and rescues — floods in Western Cape wreak havoc

Road collapses, evacuations and rescues — floods in Western Cape wreak havoc
Several access roads into Citrusdal have been flooded and 16 families living on the riverbank were evacuated on 5 June 2024. (Photo: Cederberg Local Municipality)

Flooding was reported across the Western Cape, from Cape Town to the Garden Route, as the province experienced its second cut-off low system this week. Wednesday brought major damage, with roads collapsing, power outages, evacuations and rescues.

Sixteen families were evacuated in Cederberg during flooding across the Western Cape, while 17 people were rescued on the Garden Route and the Calitzdorp Hot Springs was evacuated. 

The head of Disaster Management at the Garden Route District Municipality, Gerhard Otto, warned, “The peak of the floods has not yet reached all areas in the Garden Route district. For the southern parts of the district, it is expected to only peak in the early hours of 6 June 2024. South African Police Service (SAPS) Border Police [are] stationed in Oudtshoorn, with a team on standby in Mossel Bay for any emerging rescue or recovery incidents.” 

western cape floods citrusdal

Several access roads into Citrusdal have been flooded. (Photo: Cederberg Local Municipality)

This followed extensive damage across Oudtshoorn, Elim, Cederberg, Knysna, Mossel Bay and Cape Town resulting from cut-off low weather systems sweeping across the country since the weekend. 

Flood victims and damage assessments 

The City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre (DRMC) was attending to flooding in Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Macassar, Wallacedene, Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, Nomzamo in Strand and Kraaifontein. 

Liliswa Madubela, a resident of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, Cape Town, told Daily Maverick that her house and others in the area had been completely flooded.  

“Water is coming into our houses and we can’t even walk. Children have to sit on top of their beds and they can’t even play where we are living. There are no toilets here so we are using buckets now.

“As it was raining, people were throwing their buckets where we were walking so we couldn’t even walk, and the roads were full of water from the rain because we don’t have drains here,” Madubela said. 

western cape floods de rust

Damage to the road at the Nels River (Oude Muragie) a few kilometres before De Rust in the Western Cape. (Photo: Supplied / Oudtshoorn Municipality)

western cape floods de rust

Damage to the road at the Nels River (Oude Muragie) a few kilometres before De Rust in the Western Cape. (Photo: Supplied / Oudtshoorn Municipality)

Nazeem Anthony, a resident of Sandvlei near Macassar in Cape Town, said that they dealt with this kind of flooding every year, but the impacts seemed to be worsening.

He said wastewater from the Zandvliet Wastewater Treatment Works made its way into the Kuils River which then overflowed into their community, causing flooding when there were heavy rains.

Anthony has a horse farm in Sandvlei. He said contaminated water flowed into the farm and affected the horses’ grazing field. 

“It’s hectic. Before the flooding, we tried to lift our stables and we had one house on the property which was flooded three times. Every year we have to replace stuff,” he said.

On Wednesday, chairperson of the Greater Macassar Civic Association Pastor Mark Baatjies said parts of Greater Macassar were still flooded. They had barely recovered from the previous two flooding events.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape of Storms

“Every winter we sit with this problem. We want the City of Cape Town to come to our area [and to] clean and maintain the river,” Baatjies said. 

DRMC spokesperson Charlotte Powell said the winter rains affecting Cape Town were typical for this time of year. 

“There have been no injuries or fatalities reported. The Roads Department is assisting with unblocking roadways and providing milling and sand in some areas. The Electricity Department is dealing with weather-related outages,” Powell said.

Eskom warned that severe weather was affecting customers across the Western Cape — including the Overberg District, Garden Route, Central Karoo, West Coast and Cape Winelands.  

“The extreme weather, characterised by heavy rainfall and flooding, has made it unsafe for Eskom technicians to access and proceed with repairs. Eskom is closely monitoring the situation and will commence repair work as soon as conditions allow,” the power utility said.

Garden Route 

At least 12 roads and passes in the Garden Route were severely damaged and closed because of flooding and rockfalls. Seventeen people were rescued by the South African Police Service (SAPS) diving unit and the Red Cross Air Mercy Service helicopter. 

Three women, four men and four children were rescued by boat from Welgeluk in Oudtshoorn and six people were airlifted by helicopter from the Meiringspoort Pass.

Guests at the Calitzdorp Hot Springs were evacuated because of the downflow of the Olifants River.

western cape floods calitzdorp

Calitzdorp Hot Springs in the Western Cape’s Garden Route District. (Photo: Elmo Labuscagne)

western cape floods calitzdorp

Guests were evacuated at Calitzdorp Hot Springs in the Western Cape’s Garden Route District. (Photo: Elmo Labuscagne)

The Stompdrift, Kammanassie, Koos Raubenheimer and Gamkapoort dams in the Garden Route overflowed, pushing more water into the Olifants River. 

The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) appealed to people in areas near rivers or those considering crossing low-water bridges or structures to avoid doing so.

“If a residence is prone to flooding, people should move to higher ground to ensure the safety of family members, pets and livestock. Do not attempt to walk, swim or drive through floodwaters, as these can be deeper and faster-moving than what is assumed,” it said.

In the Cederberg Municipality, the Olifants River burst its banks. Several access roads into Citrusdal were flooded and 16 families living on the riverbank were evacuated. 

“Fortunately, there have been no reported casualties or injuries. However, 16 families have been displaced and are accommodated at the Oranjeville sports ground. The West Coast District Municipality will be providing humanitarian support that includes mattresses and food to those affected,” Cederberg Local Municipality spokesperson Anthony Mlata said.

Humanitarian needs in areas affected by the floods in the Garden Route were being assessed by Gift of the Givers, whose Southern Cape coordinator, Mario Ferreira, can be contacted at 082 490 2752 for any urgent needs or donations. 

Cut-off low weather system

As cut-off lows (COLs) caused havoc this week, Stefaan Conradie and Sabina Abba Omar from UCT’s Climate System Analysis Group, published an article in The Conversation explaining some of the factors behind the storms and how cut-off lows may change in the future.

They said there was considerable uncertainty about the future risk of cut-off low-induced floods in the Western Cape, and that this would persist even as much of the province was expected to become drier because of climate change. 

“For now, we know that COLs are a major severe weather risk, including around Cape Town. They are, unfortunately, particularly difficult to forecast — a recent media release from the South African Weather Service (Saws), labelled them ‘fickle’. Accordingly, future COLs could impact regions outside of where they are expected, or they could have different impacts than anticipated,” they said.

Conradie and Omar told Daily Maverick that cut-off lows caused flooding in many parts of South Africa. The systems had the greatest impact in coastal regions, particularly along the south and east coasts. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: How prepared is Cape Town for a future of extreme weather events?

They said research strongly suggested that climate change would make Cape Town and its surroundings drier with the likelihood of Day Zero-type droughts increasing, and the region would become less susceptible to flooding.

But, Conradie and Omar added that ocean waters to the south and southeast of Cape Town were warming rapidly and that this was where a lot of cut-off low moisture was drawn from. DM 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Cut off lows are not uncommon and are ‘fickle’. Little to do with climate change too.
    The destructiveness of overflowing rivers and streams is sometimes hard to comprehend, but at least the W Cape Government is organised to tackle unlike elsewhere.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    This is tragic for the people affected in the Western Cape. However, I am sure they are happy not to have the same experience as those in KZN where the government response to flooding was less than pathetic. Hats off to the immediate and heroic efforts of the rescuer teams and the back-up staff.

  • David Crossley says:

    Terrible damage and mayhem but recent past flooding events have shown that the Western Cape is well organised to resolve this damage and things will return to normal sooner rather than later.
    Let’s see what happens in KZN shall we…….

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