Floods leave trail of death and destruction

2011-01-08 18:17

The national toll of weather-related deaths has risen to 29 after a week of heavy rains, flooding and thunderstorms in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

Flood warnings were issued from Wednesday in all four provinces, and dam levels rose dramatically, forcing the Department of Water Affairs to open a number of sluice gates.

Worst hit by flooding was KwaZulu-Natal, where 1 000 people in the ­Ladysmith area, the Drakensberg, the South Coast and parts of Durban were left homeless.

With flood alerts having been issued to communities living around the province’s three major dams, the government now wants to urgently ­relocate 200 families living in flood-ravaged Quarry Heights in Durban, as well as another 200 living near the Klip River in Ladysmith.

On Friday KwaZulu-Natal’s premier, Zweli Mkhize, ­local government MEC Nomusa Dube and disaster management officials visited several communities displaced by floods.

They met with municipal staff to plan the moving of families whose homes had been swept away in several parts of the province.

The team also visited the families of ­children drowned on Wednesday at Folweni, near Durban, and survivors of the lightning strike that wiped out an entire family near ­Eshowe in Zululand last Sunday.

Residents of Umgababa, near Amanzimtoti, narrowly escaped with their lives when ­several homes collapsed during heavy rain.

The death toll from flooding in the province rose to seven on Friday when two children, Sthembinkosi (4) and Amanda Mbili (6), drowned while playing in the Golokodo River in the Umbumbulu area.

In Eastern Cape, police said some 17 ­people, including six children, had died since December 21 in flooding and thunderstorms in the province. Among them were four ­people killed by lightning last weekend.

No deaths have been reported in Mpumalanga, but water levels in the Crocodile River near Nelspruit have risen fast.

Communities in Matsulu, KaNyamanzane and other ­areas in the Onderberg have been warned to stay away from the rising river.

In Gauteng, communities downstream from the Vaal Dam and the Bloemhof, Gariep and Vanderkloof dams in the Vaal-­Orange River catchment area were warned that river levels could rise dramatically while these dams overflowed.

Some major roads in Vereeniging have been flooded by the strong-flowing Vaal River.

Families living in low-lying areas have had to be evacuated and many holiday homes downstream from the Vaal Dam have been flooded.

On Friday the Vaal Dam bridge near ­Deneysville was full of people who went to watch the spectacular water show when the opening of 17 sluice gates created an outflow of 2 550 cubic metres a second.

It was the first time since 1996 that so many sluice gates had been opened.

Water affairs spokesperson Linda Page said that dams still posed a threat, ­especially if more rain fell today.

“Water levels in the Vaal Dam are at 109%, but we plan to close three more sluice gates this afternoon if there is no more rain.”

The level of the Bloemhof Dam has come down significantly to 89% full, while the Gariep and Vanderkloof dams are still at 118% and 111% respectively.

The Augrabies Waterfall in Northern Cape will be in full flow by next weekend and the lower Orange River might be flooding by then.

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