Storms smash Eastern Cape

2013-09-22 06:01

Cathcart was extremely hot. And then came a dry electric thunderstorm that brought chaos and fire to the small Eastern Cape farming town.

Farmer David Wardle, whose land is in Thomas River just outside Cathcart, said the thunderstorm ignited a fire in two places.

Then came a violent, strong wind that ripped trees from their roots and blew the fires through the farms of Thomas River and Cathcart in a matter of hours.

“A farm school was burnt down. We tried to move the livestock from in front of the fire, but we weren’t fast enough and the fire swept over them. Fortunately, later in the evening we had a few drops of rain, which helped to put out the fire,” Wardle said.

The storm also hit other parts of the Eastern Cape: Three people died, one in Cathcart, one in Cofimvaba and one in Queenstown. Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said 10 people were injured.

Three hospitals were damaged, while buildings in Mthatha and surrounding towns were left without roofs and homes collapsed.

Fires were still smouldering yesterday when City Press visited the area.

Wardle estimated that more than 6 000 hectares of land were destroyed, and said farmers lost a total of 120 sheep and 35 head of cattle.

His brother, Reid, also a farmer, explained the terrible choices they had to make.

“We had to make a decision that if we had to lose a life it should be the livestock not humans – it was terrible. I have never seen anything like that,” he said.

He and his employees tried to move 270 sheep in one flock.

“I feared for my staff’s life. We had to leave the livestock. At that stage, it had developed into a complete fire storm. It was a miracle that there is some livestock still left.”

The town was without water and electricity yesterday and had been since Thursday.

Jeff Sansom, the owner of Old Thomas River Historical Village, said he’d lost more than R1.3 million in buildings and vintage cars – seven cars from his vintage museum were destroyed.

The provincial department of local government and traditional affairs said it was still assessing the damage.

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