‘What must we do?’

2013-10-25 00:00

SOUTH Durban residents are still awaiting a disaster management plan for their area and were vocal about their concerns yesterday as the Engen refinery in Wentworth conducted a simulated emergency exercise.

Engen emergency and operations teams, eThekwini Emergency Services, the SA Police Service, Metro Police, national key points authorities, Metro Disaster Management, eThekwini Health and ambulance services tested the refinery’s on-site emergency plan that, according to a statement, is “followed during emergencies to ensure the safety of people and the preservation of assets and to minimise the effect on the environment”.

However, people living cheek by jowl with the refinery knew nothing of the exercise taking place in their midst.

“Engen hasn’t informed us at all,” said Desmond D’Sa, co-ordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA). “We are not aware of it.”

There are a number of refineries and other heavy industrial plants in the area, including Shell, BP, Sasol and Mondi. D’Sa said that the South Durban community had been trying to obtain an emergency plan for the area since 2003.

“We’ve written to the companies in the area, to the municipality. We’ve sent legal letters, but nothing has happened.

“We still don’t have an emergency plan for South Durban. We don’t know where to run. If the sirens go off, we don’t know what they mean. There is no dedicated radio frequency; we don’t know what to do.”

But city spokesperson Thabo Mofokeng insisted a disaster management plan was in place.

“There is no way a city like Durban would not have a detailed disaster management plan to respond in a crisis.”

The Engen refinery, which dates back to the 1950s, is the oldest refinery in Durban and is surrounded by the residential suburbs of Wentworth, Austerville, Mere­bank and the Bluff.

In November 2007, a tank containing over seven million litres of fuel caught fire at the facility, possibly as the result of lightning, and burned for 57 hours.

In October 2011, another fire at Engen saw a provincial government delegation serve a legal notice on the refinery to clean up or face prosecution.

“We just heard the sirens go and saw the flames come out of the storage tank [in 2007],” said Jacqueline Tisson (50), from Treasure Beach in the Bluff, close to the refinery. “It was about eight in the evening when all of this happened.

“My family had to move in with my mom for two weeks. Luckily her house is further down the road,” she said.

Tisson said although they were fortunate to find shelter, she is dissatisfied with the way Engen handled the situation.“They just told us to move out; they did not attempt to evacuate us to a safe place,” she recalls.

The walls inside Tisson’s house were damaged due to the soot and had to be repainted.

Tisson said the flames were terrible and posed health hazards.

“We could not breathe. Suddenly children have developed asthma and all sorts of allergies.”

Tisson said she was not aware that Engen was conducting an emergency exercise yesterday, and would have loved to take part.

A resident of the area for eight years, Tisson said she did not intend moving out of the neighbourhood.

Asked if there was an integrated emergency plan for the South Durban area, Engen spokesperson Gavin Smith said: “Engen is responsible for emergency management within the refinery. The eThekwini municipality is responsible for emergency management outside the refinery. We work together with the municipality wherever possible, as in today’s exercise.”

groundWork director Bobby Peek said the lack of an emergency plan for South Durban is not a coincidence, but by design. “We don’t think Engen and the city want to engage with us on the matter because if they did, then all the dangers would be highlighted and the public would realise the real dangers existing in the area.”

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