Devastating floods have killed 259 people in the South African city of Durban and surrounding areas, a senior government official said on Wednesday, after hills were washed away, houses collapsed and others still fear to disappear .
The heaviest rains in 60 years have hit the municipality of Durban, eThekwini in Zulu. According to an AFP count, the storm is the deadliest on record in South Africa.
“At the moment, the confirmed number of people who have perished in this disaster is 259, across KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province,” Nonala Ndlovu, spokeswoman for the provincial department of health, told AFP. disaster management.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called the floods a “catastrophe” and a “calamity”.
“The bridges have collapsed. The roads have collapsed. People have died… this is a disaster of huge proportions,” he said, addressing a local community after inspecting the flood damage.
The search for missing persons continues, Ramaphosa said, promising to “spare nothing” to deal with the disaster.
“This disaster is part of climate change. We can no longer postpone what we need to do…to deal with climate change.
“It’s here, and our disaster management capability needs to be at a higher level.”
Earlier, provincial health chief Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu had expressed concern over the huge death toll, telling eNCA television that “morgues are under a bit of pressure, but we are coping.”
The United Methodist Church in Clermont Township has been reduced to a pile of rubble. Four children from a local family died when a wall collapsed on top of them.
Other homes cling precariously to the hillside, miraculously still intact after much of the ground below was washed away by mudslides.
The storm forced the most important port in sub-Saharan Africa to halt operations, as a main access road suffered heavy damage.
Shipping containers were tossed about, swept away in mountains of metal.
Sections of other roads were washed away, leaving behind gouges in the ground larger than large trucks.
“We see such tragedies hitting other countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, but now we are the most affected,” Ramaphosa said as he met grieving families near the ruins of the church.
South Africa’s neighbors experience such natural disasters from tropical storms almost every year, but Africa’s most industrialized nation is largely immune to the storms that form over the Indian Ocean.
These rains were not tropical, but rather caused by a weather system called a cut-off low that had brought rain and cold to much of the country.
When the storms reached the warmer and wetter climate of the KZN province of Durban, even more rain poured down.
“Parts of KZN have received over 450mm (18in) in the last 48 hours,” said Dipuo Tawana, a forecaster with the National Weather Service – almost half of Durban’s annual rainfall of 1,009mm.
Rain continued in parts of the city on Wednesday afternoon and a flood warning was issued for neighboring Eastern Cape province.
Durban had barely recovered from last July’s deadly riots that left more than 350 people dead, in South Africa’s worst unrest since the end of apartheid.
The national police have deployed 300 more officers to the area, while the air force has sent planes to help with rescue operations.
Days of driving rain flooded several areas, destroyed homes and ravaged infrastructure across the city, while landslides forced the suspension of rail services across the province.
The rains flooded highways to such depths that only the tops of traffic lights stuck out, resembling underwater periscopes.
Torrents tore through several bridges, submerged cars and collapsed houses. A tanker floated at sea after being swept off the road.
Over 6,000 homes were damaged.
After television footage showed people stealing shipping containers, the provincial government condemned “reports of container looting” during the floods.
The southern regions of the country are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis – experiencing recurrent and increasingly severe torrential rains and flooding.
Floods killed 140 people in 1995.