Disaster centres on full alert for summer storms

2012-08-30 00:00

THE Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) says it is ready to face the full wrath of summer’s natural disasters.

Following the death of a young couple and their children after they were struck by lightning in the ­Nxamalala area of Sweetwaters on Tuesday , MEC Nomusa Dube said she had directed that all disaster centres in the province be placed on full alert in anticipation of disasters occuring in the summer, such as lightning, flooding, thunderstorms and gale-force winds.

“While we know that incidents of this nature are orchestrated by forces of nature and no one can be blamed, we must always remain ready,” said Dube.

She sent condolences to families of Ndumiso Mlaba, his girlfriend Ntombiningi Mbele, and their children Elihle (two) and two-month-old Sinamele.

She said her department was trying to raise awareness about such natural tragedies, which were increasingly becoming a way of life as a result of climate change.

“In the previous season we lost over 20 people in lightning-related incidents alone in the province,” Dube added.

Mduduzi Mthembu, a weather forecaster with the South African Weather Service, said people walking in open fields should avoid being the tallest elements in the landscape. Citing the Sweetwaters tragedy, he said one should lie on the ground to avoid being stuck.

One should also avoid using electric appliances while inside one’s home during an electrical storm, he added.

The weather service is running awareness campaigns to educate children in schools about lightning.

Department spokesperson Vernon Mchunu said Cogta had installed lightning conductors in schools and households in rural areas which are prone to severe lightning strikes.

Lightning comes with every thunderstorm and occurs as soon as the thunderstorm starts brewing.

It is caused by the build-up and discharge electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas in the atmosphere and clouds.

Lightning also occurs when it is not raining and it can occur as far as 16 km outside an area experiencing heavy rain.

An estimated 100 lightning strikes occur across the Earth every second.

The electric current of a single lightning bolt can supply enough energy to illuminate a city of 200 000 people for a minute. The flash heats the air around it to nearly 28 000°C, which is hotter than the surface of the Sun.

Lightning bolts frequently strike rural homesteads in KZN, which has led superstitious claims about sangomas “calling down fire”.

• mlondi.radebe@witness.co.za

What can you do to avoid being struck by lightning?

* A recent study published in The Witness postulates that smoke from fires creates a “path” for lightning, while the high fatality rates that typically accompany such a rural strike can be explained by the natural conductivity created by a group of bodies huddling together.

* Motorists are safe inside their vehicles as the body of the car acts as a steel cage and diverts lightning along the easy path around the outside shell.

* Do not bath or shower or use the telephone when there is lightning around, and stay indoors if possible.

* If you are outside and far from any safe shelter, lie down flat on the ground so that the lightning cannot strike you. An umbrella will not stop lightning.

* People with steel plates in their arms or legs should stay indoors, as there is a good chance that the lightning will strike them.

* Rubber-soled shoes offer no protection against lightning.

* One is safe inside an aeroplane as aeroplanes have good lightning conduction.

* If you come across someone who has been struck by lightning, start CPR immediately, if they are unconscious and not breathing. The injury is often characterised by a small burn at the point of entry and a larger burn at the point where the charge exits the body.

Weather SA recommends the following precautions:

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