Floods leave town dry

2011-01-13 00:00

LADYSMITH is still struggling to recover from the devastating floods that hit the town hard in the past week.

Rural people were the hardest hit as mud houses collapsed and three people died.

In the town itself, the worst lingering effect is the breakdown in water supply because of silt clogging the main pumping station.

Mayor of the Emnambithi/Ladysmith municipality Dudu Mazibuko said other clean-ups have been completed and the town is almost back to normal.

“These floods were not as bad as those we had in the 1980s. The problem is that they have triggered memories of past disasters. Our storm water drains did not help the situation at all,” said Mazibuko.

She said about 200 damaged houses were counted in various rural areas and a list of those was handed over to the Human Settlements Department. No timeframe was given as to when the building of houses will commence.

In the township areas, residents feel authorities have not adequately explained the water problem, and that the flooding problem is not taken seriously enough.

Although he did not suffer any loss, Steadville resident Mbuyisi Kubheka said: “I’ve heard a number of stories about flooding in the area dating back to the 1970s and since then no effective plans have been put in place. I have survived this round, but I might not be lucky when the next floods hit the town. The leadership talks a lot and acts less,” said Kubheka.

Residents in Steadville, Acaciaville, Tsakane and surrounding areas and businesses in the Pieters industrial area have been without water for about a week.

Yesterday residents carried 25-litre buckets to fetch water from neighbouring areas.

Muntu Myengo of Tsakane said they have not been told what is wrong.

“All we ask is for whoever is responsible to fix the problem and they should not use our plight for their political gains. Without water people face health hazards, hence the need for this to be solved urgently,” said Myengo.

uThukela Water Services has been clearing sand and silt from their Ezakheni raw water pump station since Monday.

The station is where water is taken from the Tugela River to the water purification plant 1,2 kilometres uphill.

Water services deputy manager Glen Singh said the pumps at the station were submerged under water during the flooding, and sand and silt has clogged the pipes to the purification plant.

“Since the floods started 400 ml per litre of water pumped to the purification plant was solids. We pump about 45 million litres per day and you could imagine the weight carried by the motors and the difficulty to process the water,” explained Singh.

The plant supplies water to 15 000 homes in Ezakheni, parts of Steadville and Tsakane, the entire former Indian area in Acaciaville and Pieters industrial area.

“We are fully aware of the plight of the people and we sympathise with them, but this is the force of nature and it is beyond our control.

“ Thinking of relocating the plant is not an option as it is exactly where it should be,” said Singh.

Plant superintendent Stanley Mitchell said in his 30 years of working at the station it has never been under water during floods.

“This is not a normal situation. The Drill Dam, Woodstock and Spioenkop dams flooded their banks releasing 500 cubic metres of water back into the already swollen river and these are the results,” said Mitchell.

uThukela district municipality manager, Siya Nkehli, called for politicians not to use the situation for “cheap political point scoring”.

“Let’s tell people the truth about this whole situation, and not use it for selfish benefits,” said Nkehli.

He said the cost implications of the clean-up and fixing what needs to be fixed will run to millions but an exact figure can be determined once the plant is in full operation.

President of the Ladysmith Chamber of Business and Commerce Jeremy Robertson said the flooding was not caused by the river bursting its banks, but by blocked storm water drains around town.

He said the local municipality has been negligent in not addressing this issue.

“We will be requesting a meeting with them soon. As for uThukela District they should have a back-up plan for when transmitters blow up.

“If this problem persists businesses will start looking for alternative areas such as Lesotho where there won’t be water supply and electricity interruptions,” said Robertson.

LADYSMITH has a history of flooding dating back 100 years.

In 1976 the town was hit by floods that strained civil defence resources to the limit.

In March 1988 the town was declared a disaster area after it was flooded four times in 12 months, with the loss of three lives.

Later that year, the government proposed a network of low-level dams in the catchment areas above Ladysmith.

The dams would have no sluices and an opening that would allow water to overflow, thus ensuring that the Klip River does not overflow its banks at Ladysmith.

As recently as 1996, however, the town was again flooded. The fact that no lives were lost was regarded as a miracle, but the town was hard hit with businesses and homes severely damaged.

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