Monster storm had hurricane force winds

2014-02-26 00:00

THE monster storm that lashed Pietermaritzburg on Monday had hurricane force winds, which gusted at speeds of up to 180 km/h, leaving havoc in its wake.

The storm caused at least one fatality when a Slangspruit woman died after a wall blew down on top of her during the storm.

Sanjeev Sewnarain of the SA Weather Office in Durban yesterday described Monday’s storm as a “very severe thunderstorm” and said it had wind gusts of hurricane strength.

He said the storm, which struck at rush hour at around 5 pm, was classified as a category four storm, with the highest category rating being a five, “so you can imagine the intensity”.

A category four storm is characterised by strong surface winds, hail and lightning.

He said wind gusts at Oribi reached an astounding 45,4 metres per second (91 knots or around 180 km/h), which registered 12 on the Beaufort Wind Scale, and which indicates “severe widespread damage to vegetation and structures. Debris and unsecured objects are hurled about.”

Sewnarain said when the storm moved out of Pietermaritzburg, towards the coast, it was even more destructive.

The storm targeted the southern side of the city with areas like Foxhill, Mkondeni, Oribi, Bisley and Imbali bearing the brunt of the highest winds and heaviest rains.

The Witness sent roving reporters and photographers out yesterday and as they travelled the city’s streets they listened to residents tell their stories of fear, astonishment and despair at the huge damage the wind and rain had caused.

The winds ripped the roofs off countless homes, blew down trees and tore holes in walls or simply blew them down.

The Witness spoke to people whose homes were decimated by the combination of gusting wind and torrential rain. The huge volumes of water that poured in through the roofs or doors destroyed all their appliances; some were using hosepipes to wash the mud off their ruined electrical devices.

Many people lost all the food they had, and said their furniture was trashed by the water. Others were grateful to have survived what they described as a terrifying experience.

They described how the sky grew completely dark as the storm struck; many said their electricity went out, which added to their fear. Then came the wind, the torrential rain and, in some areas, the golf-ball sized hail stones pounding on their roofs.

Drivers on the road had uprooted trees, broken branches, debris, hail and knee-deep water to contend with in some areas during their rush-hour drive home.

The streets took a pounding too, and a sinkhole opened up in St Patrick’s Road with huge, gaping potholes forming in other roads due to the heavy rain.

Check out dramatic pictures on The Witness mobisite at http://bit.ly/1mvBvFc.

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