Winds of chaos

2013-01-07 00:00

TREES fell across homes and on cars, and several areas in and around Pietermaritzburg were without power last night following an afternoon storm which lashed the Midlands area.

While there were no immediate reports of injury or death, the main casualty appeared to be electricity, with many residents expecting cold showers and breakfasts cooked on gas this morning.

Areas without power last night included parts of Hilton, Blackridge, Montrose, Foxhill, Prestbury, Northdale, Scottsville, Claridge, Manor, Imbali, Eastwood, Prince Alfred, Masons Mill, Westgate and the CBD.

Crews, including firemen, were out removing fallen electricity poles and trees, and restoring power where this was possible. By 10 pm, power had been restored to Bishopstowe, parts of Hayfields, Lincoln Meade, Glenwood, Grimthorpe, Manor and Wiganthorpe.

The chaos extended to the roads, with trees and electricity blocking traffic in several areas. Motorists called in with reports of uprooted trees across the N3 in the vicinity of Liberty Midlands Mall and close to the Hilton off-ramp, where a tree across two lanes brought traffic to a virtual standstill.

In the Pietermaritzburg CBD, roads which were rendered impassable due to fallen trees included Greyling, West and Boom streets, while trees also fell across Alexandra and College roads in Scottsville. Four trees fell across Pietermaritz Street, forcing police to cordon the area off.

A Hayfields family escaped injury when a giant tree toppled over onto their New England Road home. At kwaMpumuza, a wall collapsed, falling onto a man who Netcare911 said was fortunate to escape with minor injuries. There were also reports of roofs blown off homes in areas including Cinderella Park, Sobantu, Elandskop and Tamboville. Howick was not spared either, with part of a home in the KwaWula estate collapsing in the strong wind.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said 21 wards in the municipality were affected. She had received reports of 350 homes sustaining damage ranging from roofs blown off to trees falling and damaging properties.

Damaged Pietermaritzburg landmarks included the city hall, with a ceiling collapsing and water damage reported last night, and the Harry Gwala stadium, where fencing was blown over.

The falling trees had also damaged electricity infrastructure, leaving many areas in darkness last night. Madonda said all available teams were out in force last night, with employees off for the weekend recalled to help in the effort. She said the municipal call centre had already received over 500 calls from residents by 10 pm, reporting outages, flooding, and fallen trees and light poles.

Five teams were working to clear fallen trees, with the fire department and contractors being called to assist as well, while 14 teams were driving around the municipal district, assessing damage.

The worst affected areas were informal settlements. These included the Jika Joe and Thembalihle settlements, where several homes had roofs blown off and were flooded.

Cinderella Park resident Jennifer Mellis said her roof was blown off at the height of the storm.

“We were watching television. All of a sudden there was lightning and the TV went off. And then the roof was blown off part of the house,” she said.

Mellis said the TV, DVD player, lounge suite and a large amount of groceries were damaged or destroyed. The family was forced to squash into one bedroom last night, while Mellis was contemplating how to repair her home as she had no money.

Thoko Dladla, of West Street, said she had been writing letters to the municipality to remove a tree with branches hanging over her home since moving in back in 2003. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Yesterday, having seen a tree across the road being blown over, Dladla had already started moving her possessions away from the area under the tree. It turned out to be a good decision because it wasn’t long before the tree was uprooted and came crashing on her roof and broke her boundary wall.

“I’m so worried because I have no idea how I’m going to repair the roof and the fence,” she said, adding, however, she was grateful that nobody was hurt.

Madonda said the municipality would be distributing disaster relief kits in affected areas. The kits include blankets, food and matches.

“So far we have received no reports of deaths and we’re keeping our fingers crossed in that regard,” said Madonda.

More pictures on page 3

• gabisile.ngcobo@witness.co.za

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