South Africa

FLOOD DISASTER

Shelters swamped by displaced people after deadly downpours in Nelson Mandela Bay

Shelters swamped by displaced people after deadly downpours in Nelson Mandela Bay
A créche in Kariega was badly damaged in the flood. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The death toll following the floods in Nelson Mandela Bay stood at eight on Tuesday. As temperatures plummeted across the metro, shelters and community centres were swamped by people seeking refuge, with storm surges and more disruptive rain predicted for Wednesday.

As the sun set on Tuesday night and more heavy rain started falling in Nelson Mandela Bay, Linda van Oudheusden from Missionvale Care Centre was hoping for a miracle.

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

The Kruisriver Bridge was still flooded by Monday, 3 June 2024. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

The floods caused extensive road damage throughout Kariega. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

She had five pillows, 10 blankets and 40 people needing shelter and somewhere to sleep. 

The Missionvale Care Centre was one of many shelters overwhelmed by displaced people looking for somewhere safe to sleep in Nelson Mandela Bay. About 2,000 people were displaced in the metro after devastating floods on Saturday night and Sunday morning, mainly in Kariega (formerly Uitenhage) and KwaNobuhle.

Missionvale, with its many low-lying houses and poor drainage, was also badly affected.

The Gift of the Givers organisation was working around the clock to hand out blankets, food and toiletries to flood-affected communities. 

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane inspected the flood damage on Tuesday afternoon.

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

Firemen began cleaning up the damaged fire station. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

Residents cleaned mud from their fridges after the damage caused by floodwaters on Saturday night and Sunday morning. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

On Monday, residents tried to clean homes damaged by floodwaters as fears of more disruptive rain loomed. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Gqeberha and parts of Kariega were again plunged into darkness after an extensive power outage.

The CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Denise van Huyssteen, said she was deeply touched by how companies that suffered huge losses were reaching out to help their employees and communities in Kariega.

She said the Boardwalk Hotel had donated beds, sheets, blankets and towels. Spar Eastern Cape opened its stores to Gift of the Givers to collect what they needed and Shoprite was helping with soup kitchens.

“Sovereign Foods, even though they too suffered a lot of damage, were helping people with food since Sunday.” 

Van Huyssteen said several factories were damaged by the floods. One factory would probably take a month to be up and running, while others would lose a few days of production.

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

A woman watches clean-up operations in Kariega, Eastern Cape on 3 June 2024. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Residents take a break from cleaning up to share a meal on 3 June 2024. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

deadly downpours nelson mandela bay

Residents did some washing on Monday before the rain returned. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

She said they had been raising funds to help the Gift of the Givers’ flood relief project.

Shoprite Mobile Soup Kitchens have served warm meals to hundreds of displaced residents in Kariega since Sunday morning. Blankets were also being distributed in partnership with Gift of the Givers. 

Police spokesperson Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said that since Sunday, they had recovered the bodies of eight people who drowned in the floods.

They were: Alutha Brown (4), Ndumiso Booysen (41), Tamsanqa Plaatjies (62) and Thandixolo Jonas (46) from KwaNobuhle; Abronita Adams (18) from Kamesh, Clive Noah (72) from Kariega and Sicelo Lusipho (32) from Walmer Township.

Janse van Rensburg said the body of the eighth victim, a woman who went missing on Sunday at Kabega Park, was found on Tuesday by the K9 Search and Rescue teams assisted by the diving unit. The woman’s name has not yet been released. 

More extreme weather 

Dr Andrew Muir, the CEO of the Wilderness Foundation Africa and the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber’s lead on its climate change team, said similar extreme weather events to those in Nelson Mandela Bay had been seen across the world. 

While the Eastern Cape is known for its periods of drought followed by an abundance of rain, Muir said the most recent floods, storm surges and damage to infrastructure were not the consequence of an established weather pattern.

“We are seeing that 10-year events, like a big flood, or 20-year events are becoming more frequent,” he said. “An established weather pattern is not two floods in one year and a massive fire. It is not two cut-off lows six months apart,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: EXPLAINED: Seven climate tipping points that could change life as we know it

He said the intensity of these extreme weather events and their frequency had changed. 

“These events do a lot of damage in a short period of time. A rain bomb, like the one that fell in Kariega, is an acute event, affecting a very small area. The damage was just so much more than with a normal rainstorm.”  

Muir heads a team that has been tasked by the Presidential Climate Change Commission to draw up a resilience plan for Nelson Mandela Bay.

“There is a lot of consultation and a lot of technical expertise. We are drawing on lessons learnt from around the world,” he said.

Weather warning

A portion of the N2 highway was closed for hours on Tuesday morning after a massive storm surge pushed waves on to the road, leaving debris, rocks and sand on the surface.

The South African Weather Service issued a warning for more storm surges along the Eastern Cape coast on Tuesday.

Muir said, “We have identified the N2 as a weak point in the infrastructure where it is closest to the sea. I have forecast that if this gets worse there will be extended periods of time where the N2 is cut off. It can become a very serious issue. 

“The damage to infrastructure is most alarming. Because of the increased frequency of these events, the one arrives before the damage done by the previous one has been fixed.”

Wisane Mavasa from the Department of Water and Sanitation said they were investigating possible structural damage to the privately owned Tiryville Dam near Kariega. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Metro strives to prevent dam burst after deadly Nelson Mandela Bay downpours

He said they had received reports that the dam was at risk of collapsing after the flash floods. The department had sent a team of engineers to assess the dam’s condition. 

The Lapland community, living less than a kilometre from the dam, has been evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Mavasa said engineers had assured them that the dam’s concrete structure should be able to cope with the volume of overflowing water. DM

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