Rescue ops continue in icy weather

2012-08-08 17:52
Stranded vehicles on the N3 in KwaZulu-Natal. (Supplied, ER24)

Stranded vehicles on the N3 in KwaZulu-Natal. (Supplied, ER24)

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Johannesburg - Rescue operations continued on Wednesday afternoon after countrywide rains and snowfall left a toddler dead and a paramedic missing.

A 3-year-old girl was killed on Tuesday when the walls of her home crumbled after continuous rain in Bityi, near Mthatha, Eastern Cape police said.

"The girl was with her mother when the walls of the house collapsed. Fortunately, the mother didn't die and escaped," said Lieutenant Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela.

He could not confirm any other fatalities or injuries as a result of the weather conditions.

"At this stage, we are still checking our areas and so far it's quiet, but it's still raining."

In Montagu, the search for a woman paramedic whose ambulance veered off a bridge into a river is still ongoing.

In KwaZulu-Natal, efforts were underway to evacuate at least 157 people stranded in snow near Kokstad, paramedics said.

"We are still on the scene. We have evacuated two loads [of people] and have two to go. The weather is closing in on us at the moment," said Netcare 911 spokesperson Chris Botha.

He said of the 157, only 28 people remained to be evacuated.

At lunchtime he explained that paramedics and the military were called to the area after reports that a fully-laden bus was stranded.

They found two passenger buses, two trucks and a caravan. The vehicles were being towed up the mountain.

"There are a lot of little children, a lot of old people, and lots of people have now got sick. They have been here since yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon."

People were airlifted by helicopters to the nearest town and the sick were mostly dehydrated and would be treated by the two paramedics on site.

The N3 toll route, including Van Reenen's Pass, was officially reopened by 15:00 on Wednesday, the N3 toll concession said.

"Motorists are advised to proceed with caution if planning to travel this afternoon into the evening," spokesperson Andy Visser said.

"Temperatures are expected to drop and the wet road could result in ice formation and dangerous driving conditions. Travel should still be delayed until tomorrow morning, if at all possible."

All roads and toll roads in the Eastern Cape have also been reopened, Arrive Alive said.

"Everything has been reopened, but the possibility of them being closed again is very high. It is snowing on-and-off here," spokesperson Tshepo Machaea said.

ER24 spokesperson Derrick Banks said paramedics had been working with search and rescue teams to distribute blankets, soup and water - sponsored by Gift of the Givers - to motorists stuck in the snow along the N3.

"Paramedics said as far as they could see there were cars stuck along the N3," Banks said.

He was unsure of the number of people stuck, and whether there had been any fatalities.

An ER24 response car got stuck on Nottingham Road, just off the N3, while on its way to a call-out.

The military had been placed on standby in KwaZulu-Natal because of the snowfall in the area, the defence department said.

"We are on standby in the Harrismith area, around Ladysmith and Van Reenen's pass in particular," spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said.

He said the military was also ready to help in the Eastern Cape, around the Maluti area, near Kokstad.

SA Weather Service forecaster Jan Vermeulen said isolated showers and rain was predicted over Gauteng, North West, the Free State, southern Mpumalanga, the western half of the Eastern Cape, and the southern part of the western Cape for Wednesday.

There were forecasts of scattered to widespread rain or snow over KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern part of the Eastern Cape.

It would be very cold over the south east and eastern interior, and heavy rainfalls are expected over southern KwaZulu-Natal.

"For tomorrow [Thursday] we don't expect any rain over the country. Sunny weather and no alerts."

Friday's weather was also predicted to be sunny and warmer.

There was a cold front approaching the Western Cape which would bring rain over the area, but fine weather was predicted for the rest of the country.

- SAPA
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