‘I felt close to death’

2014-03-17 00:00

DUDU Zondi feared the worst on Saturday when a severe storm blasted into the Ashburton children’s home where she works.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said, talking about the tempest which hit the area just before 4 pm and left a trail of damaged roofs, shredded trees and flattened road signs.

“It looked very dark outside,” said her colleague Thandi Ngcobo yesterday about what it felt like to be in the eye of the storm. Both women work at the White Cross Disabled Hope Centre and Ngcobo was carrying the last of the children who can’t walk from the home’s daycare centre, where they had just finished supper, to the dormitory next door, when it hit. “The children were screaming and it sounded like bottles breaking.”

Stuart Knight, director of the centre, was watching the drama from across the valley and said what he saw looked like a tornado. The huge metal roof of the daycare centre was lifted up in the air and carried about 50 metres across the garden, before being dropped near another building. The roof of the centre’s boardroom was also ripped off and blown about 20 metres away. There were no serious injuries.

Mike Amod from Disaster Risk Management visited the centre yesterday to drop off food parcels because the centre’s kitchen has been affected, as well as black plastic for a temporary roof cover. He also delivered plastic to Red James’s home in Lynnfield Park, whose roof was severely damaged.

James was in Mkondeni when the storm hit. “I said as I was watching it, ‘some poor bastards are being hammered’, then I came home to find that I was one of them,” he said yesterday, describing how from Mkondeni he had seen a cloud formation in the shape of a spinning funnel.

Down the road, Thabani Buthelezi was sweeping up leaves and branches outside his house. He said he was on his way home from Msinga and was approaching the Ashburton turn-off when the extreme weather forced him to a standstill.

“I tried to shelter under the bridge for about five minutes, but it wasn’t safe, there were too many cars and they were blocking the highway. I came off the freeway and was trying to drive, but I couldn’t see because of the rain and hail. The car was moving to the side because the wind was blowing very hard.

“It was terrible. I made it to the garage and parked under the shelter, but there were a lot of cars doing the same thing and tempers were high because everyone was trying to find a space.”

At the South African Weather Bureau office in Durban forecaster Mduduzi Mthembu said the tempest was a “normal severe storm” and there was no evidence on the computer system of a tornado in the area, which only happened under special circumstances.

“A storm can have a rotating up-draught, but it has to touch the ground to be a tornado. What happened here was just the remains of severe weather happening in the interior of the country.”

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