‘It was the worst storm I’ve seen’, says Emmaus gogo

2014-03-19 00:00

TWO 80-year-old ‘gogos’, Hlulekile Chonco and Hlengiwe Mhlanga, yesterday told of how they ran for cover and hid in a small shack, after the roof of their main house was ripped away by raging winds.

A storm of severe strong winds and heavy downpours ripped through the small tranquil town of Emmaus, about 15 km outside Bergville, on Monday afternoon.

The storm lifted roofs, washed away mud homes and caused havoc at Emmaus Hospital and the local high school, Bambazi High.

“It was terrible; it was the worst storm I have seen and experienced. Not even in my childhood days do I remember something like this happening,” said Chonco, who fell in her terror to escape the storm.

“I need a walking stick to walk, and ran with Mhlanga uphill to the small shack; I fell but managed to get up.”

Chonco and Mhlanga hid with their 18-year-old granddaughter, Nondumiso. Nondumiso said she had headed home from school in Bergville where the sun was shining. “But when I reached my grannies’ home, the sky had gone black and the wind and rain was so strong, I could hardly see in front of me.”

The Chonco family said they had never been so scared and when they finally ventured out and saw the havoc the storm caused, they found it heartbreaking.

“We don’t have much, but the little we have has been washed or blown away,” said Chonco.

“We have received a tent from our local municipality, but we are scared, because more rain is expected in the area.”

A shocked principal Sipho Nkabinde of Bambazi High School was in disbelief at the intensity of the storm. “In my 20 years of being at the school, I have never seen such a storm.”

The school’s roof was completely blown away.

Over 1 000 pupils go to the school. Several buildings within the school were also damaged, as knee-deep water flooded some of the classrooms.

“There is so much damage at this school, we really don’t know what to do or where to start.”

Thirteen buildings within the Emmaus Hospital grounds were damaged along with the cars of officials on duty, when several trees were blown over. Over 132 patients within the hospital had been evacuated on Monday evening, and were transported to Ladysmith and Estcourt.

A paramedic said the devastation was extreme. “There are trees down from the wind which have fallen on buildings. I can see a tree that has been struck by lightning, which has opened up like a mushroom. Construction staff are working on the hospital.” He said he was transferring his third maternity patient to another hospital. “She is full term. I hope she doesn’t go into labour on the way.”

Officials were still in the area trying to establish the amount of damage caused, but the hospital is closed until further notice.

KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said one person was killed by lightning in Phongolo in Northern KZN and it is alleged that 18 injuries were reported during the storm. He said many houses were blown away.

“Scores of people in the province of KwaZulu-Natal have been left homeless after violent storms, accompanied by torrential downpours, cut a swath of destruction in some parts of the province around 5 pm on Monday.” He said according to preliminary reports, the Midlands and Northern KwaZulu-Natal towns of Bergville and Phongolo were the most pounded by the storms.

“A Joint Operations Committee made of the Provincial Governments and the affected Municipalities has been established to provide emergency assistance.”

Mabaso said damage is expected to run into millions of rands.

Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, said: “We will be providing a full report to Cabinet in order to allow the release of funds from line function departments to undertake the reconstruction work. It is too early at this stage to speculate that the areas may be considered for disaster declaration as assessments of the damage will be carried out in the coming days”.

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