Midlands storm havoc

2012-01-03 00:00

POLICE were combing the crocodile-infested and swollen waters of the Mooi and Tugela rivers yesterday looking for the bodies of victims of the freak storm that, like a tornado, carved a path of destruction with pelting hail and rain through the Midlands on New Year’s Eve.

Lieutenant Jack Haskins said the rivers were still flowing very strongly yesterday as police searched for five people who are unaccounted for.

He said two bodies were recovered on Sunday.

A helicopter was called in yesterday to retrieve the body of a 30-year-old man found washed up on an island in the Mooi River near Msinga.

His body had washed over 20 kilometres downstream, where it was found by locals yesterday.

Haskins said that because of the danger of crocodiles, police used a helicopter to lower members on to the island before hoisting the body up into aircraft.

He said the body, which had washed onto the island at the height of the flood, became visible as the water receded.

Haskins said homes in the area had been flattened.

“At one house there was nothing left. We could only see the DStv dish still standing.”

Rescue efforts have been hampered by the impassable roads and helicopters have been sent to rescue the injured.

Muden’s Community Policing Forum chairperson, Rupert Maré, was convinced that the damage was caused by a tornado.

He called for help for the local community whose homes had been destroyed.

Maré said many people had lost everything. “They need food, tents and building materials urgently.”

He said local farmers were trying to source food yesterday for those who had lost everything.

Wind damage could be seen in a 500-metre belt which “hopped, skipped and jumped”, with a one kilometre swathe of hail damage on either side, Maré said.

“Trees were uprooted and homes flattened. It came down in the Muden basin on towards Mooi River for five or six kilometres, and then turned 90 degrees towards Msinga and Tugela Ferry.

“People ran or took shelter. It happened so fast.

“In five minutes it was over.”

Maré said the people most affected by the storm could not afford to rebuild their homes and that three schools had been extensively damaged.

A historic building at Weston Agricultural College in Mooi River was hard hit.

Joe Sadowski, director of school development, said: “The hailstones were huge. Like eggs pelting down they ripped through the roofs of the staff houses and shattered many windows.”

Sadowski estimated the damage would run to many thousands of rands.

He said he had never seen such a severe storm in the 13 years he had been living in the Mooi River area.

Moira Grueneberg, Democratic Alliance councillor for Nottingham Road, said she had received reports that the storm had affected areas like Loteni, Rosetta and Mount West.

“I have been told that the dairies of Honeydew and Lintrose have had their roofs blown off, and other farms have had major crops severely damaged by the hail and wind.

“To me it did not look like hail. It looked like a huge snowstorm had just occurred, dumping metres of ice,” she said.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize visited the area yesterday with a task team of cabinet ministers to assess the damage and speak to bereaved families.

National Freedom Party spokesperson Professor Nhlanhla Khubisa said the party wanted the area to be declared a disaster area.

“We have sent our members to inspect the damage and offer support.”

Residents were appealing for help and many people had to spend New Year’s Eve out in the open after their homes had been destroyed.

Areas in and around Nottingham Road, Mooi River, Loteni, Muden, Greytown and Tugela Ferry were badly affected by the storm.

ROZ Marais, of Free Me in Howick, said the wildlife organisation had received a batch of injured European storks from a concerned farmer.

Marais said: “The farmer had observed how the storks had been mercilessly battered by the hailstones as they were in his field.

“He counted 17 dead and managed to round up another 15 injured ones.”

Marais said the storks had just returned from Europe and were feeding when the flash storm bombarded them with hailstones.

She said: “Many of them have broken wings with the bones sticking out and have eye injuries. Most of the vets are off duty until after the long weekend.”

TEXTBOX 2

Witnesses have described the freak storm as having the properties of a twister or tornado, as it seemed to gather up dust and swirl furiously and then pelt down massive hailstones the size of hen’s eggs.

Weather experts however could not confirm if the freak storm was a tornado but the fierce storm was unusual and violent and left a trail of devastation in its wake.

According to Wikipedia weather a twister is a violent weather phenomenon. “It is produced in a very severe thunderstorm and appears as a funnel cloud extending from the base of a Cumulonimbus to the ground.”

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