Disaster with cyclone communication
Desiree Erasmus, Zululand Fever
Richards Bay - Cyclone Irina emergency numbers released by the department of co-operative government and traditional affairs (Cogta) at a press briefing in Zululand on Saturday evening are incorrect.
And in one of the areas where the incorrect numbers for disaster help were quoted in a statement, uMkhanyakude District Municipality, three men were reported drowned on Sunday.
Another man was reported drowned in Hlabisa; which also falls under uMkhanyakude.
Phoning on Sunday to verify the numbers, The Zululand Fever found that four of the numbers allocated to district disaster lines yielded no results. Eleven numbers were quoted on the release.
All four numbers within the northern KwaZulu-Natal area on the list - believed to be most affected by the cyclone - were useless.
Amajuba and uThukela had a fax-like tone; uMkhanyakude’s number simply did not exist and Zululand District’s number rang and then connected to an alternative line, which also just rang.
All four numbers were contacted numerous times by The Zululand Fever.
What is a cyclone?
One disaster call centre employee at a northern KwaZulu-Natal municipality with a functioning disaster line, asked what a cyclone was. She then said they had received no update on the situation.
Another call centre employee at a northern KZN municipality asked The Zululand Fever to phone an alternative number; which led to another "alternative" number and eventually to a third "alternative" number.
The employee also said that policy was to phone the municipality, which would get in touch with a ward councillor, who would get in touch with disaster management.
When asked how long the disaster centre expected a man or woman stuck on their rooftop to dial alternative lines while their home was flooding, the operator said she wasn’t quite sure.
An employee at the KwaZulu-Natal disaster management centre in Pietermaritzburg told The Zululand Fever that the numbers were double-checked before being issued.
However, The Zululand Fever has since ascertained that the number for uMkhanyakude has not been operational since 2010.
uMkhanyakude’s disaster management confirmed that this was, in fact, "an old number".
The only number in the Northern KZN area on the list that was working and manned by an operator who knew the situation and was on hand to give information was the uThungulu District Municipality - which includes uMhlathuze (Richards Bay), Umlalazi, Nkandla, Mfolozi, Ntambanana and Mthonjaneni municipalities.
This does not bode well for the planning and implementation of Cogta’s or KZN’s disaster management policy.
An emergency meeting was called in Richards Bay on Saturday at the City of uMhlathuze (incorporating Richards Bay, Empangeni and other areas) municipality to discuss disaster management plans.
The KwaZulu-Natal cabinet EXCO was present.
It was at this meeting that the statement with the incorrect numbers was released.
Cogta spokesperson Vernon Mchunu was made aware of the problems with the incorrect numbers by The Zululand Fever on Sunday evening and said he would "inform the relevant people to look into the situation".
He said a meeting is to be convened on Monday where the matter is likely to be brought up.
In a press release issued at 19:30 on Sunday evening, Cogta reported that one infant and three female passengers died near Richards Bay on Saturday evening in an accident said to be due to the rains.
In uMkhanyakude District, a wall collapsed on a 56 year-old female resulting in a fractured pelvis and leg.
It further reported that in Hlabisa, the Wela River was in flood, making it difficult to cross in order to assist a maternity patient at Nhlwathi Clinic.
From Jozini to Durban, 13 minor accidents had occurred due to wet road conditions.