No end in sight to the rains

2013-01-27 10:00

Damage caused by flooding in Limpopo expected to run into millions, with more heavy rain forecast

Much of Limpopo was flooded this week as the province was hit by torrential rain – and the situation is set to get worse.

As damage to roads, farms and bridges is predicted to run into hundreds of millions of rands, meteorologists are forecasting more heavy rain until April and unseasonably wet weather until June.

With up to 750mm of rain having fallen in a single week in areas such as George’s Valley near Tzaneen, the soil cannot absorb any more water, and farmers and communities are bracing themselves for ruin.

Cobus Olivier, a researcher at the SA Weather Service, said although the heavy rains that hit Limpopo and some parts of Mpumalanga were strange and unexpected, it was nothing abnormal.

“In summer you do get those strange rainfall events. It doesn’t happen at the same place every season, but it does happen. This time it was Limpopo and Mpumalanga,” said Olivier.

“There is a good chance similar rains will continue for the next three months.”

Plenty of rain is also on the cards for the rest of the country.

“This season the forecast is that there are higher chances for heavy rains between February and April across the country – more especially on the Highveld, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and parts of Limpopo,” said Olivier.

We are also in for a tough winter, he warned.

“The winter will be early and much colder than normal in the northeastern parts of the country,” said Olivier.

This week, the country watched dramatic TV footage of residents living across 70 000km2 in districts along the Limpopo River battling the floods.

Officials from three district municipalities, including Vhembe, Mopani and Capricorn, reported that:

» At least 10 000 people had been displaced;

» More than 3 000 houses were destroyed;

» More than 50 bridges were washed away;

» More than 50 schools suffered flood damage;

» Hundreds of kilometres of gravel roads had been completely destroyed;

» Millions of rands of farming equipment, export fruits such as mangoes and avocados, and other crops had been destroyed; and

» Telephone lines were washed away, leaving many residents in remote areas unable to call for help.

Vhembe District Municipality spokesperson Matodzi Ralushai said the villages of Honkotswi, Mutale, Mapate, Gunda, Mahunguwi and Tshamulungwi had been cut off as roads and bridges had collapsed.

“About 8 000 people there need short-term intervention. We can’t quantify the losses yet, but you can count on them running into hundreds of millions and even into billions of rands,” he said.

Neil Shikwambana, spokesperson for the Mopani District Municipality, said three villages in the district had been cut off.

“More than 668 houses were destroyed by the rain. I know of one bridge that has collapsed here,” he said.

The tourism industry was also hard-hit and the Mapungubwe Heritage Site was closed for a few days.

Limpopo Tourism spokesperson Mike Tauatsoala said two game lodges near Thohoyandou, the Eclipse Safari Lodge and the Mphephu Resort, were closed as they were no longer accessible due to collapsed bridges and access roads.

“Tourism in general will take a bit of a knock as a result. Remember that hiking trails, and many rural and 4x4 routes, have been damaged,” he said.

Pieter le Roux, a farmer who owns a helicopter in the Waterpoort area near Musina, said he flew on Monday after realising the severity of the flooding.

“I could see that everything was submerged in water: trucks, citrus fruits and animals. People were on rooftops,” he said.

“I couldn’t land with my small chopper, so I called the army guys to come and rescue people. I was just so sad to see cows, sheep, goats and even dogs floating helplessly. The whole Pontdrift area is devastated.”

In a statement on Thursday, the SA Red Cross in Limpopo reported nearly 1 000 people were rescued by helicopter near Musina.

Theo de Jager, deputy president of agricultural trade association Agri SA, said the Tzaneen, Nandoni and Nzhelele dams were now overflowing, causing havoc.

“As I speak to you, the Middle Letaba Dam is filling up very quickly. It had almost dried as a result of drought. Thank God for that as it would have also filled up by now (and overflowed).”

Farmers, he said, had suffered severe damage, “especially the emerging farmers. I feel for these guys. They will need government assistance.”

The floods, he said, would cause further financial hardship for farmers already badly hit by drought.

“Some farmers lost up to 200 cattle as a result of the drought, but it’s nothing compared to what many have lost to the floods. Some have lost literally everything.”

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