Highways closed due to snowfall

2012-07-16 00:00

OFF-ROAD driving fanatic and personal fitness trainer Craig George of Durban unexpectedly turned into a Good Samaritan on Saturday during a trip to snow-covered Lesotho.

He helped scores of fellow visitors to the mountain Kingdom who had been trapped on roads near the Afriski Resort in Northern Lesotho.

The cold weather over the weekend gripped many parts of South Africa, with several major roads having to be closed in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, due primarily to snowfall.

Forecasters at the South African Weather Service (SAWS) told The Witness that the cold weather would persist in KZN and other parts of the country over the next day or two, due to the presence of another cold front.

Durban-based SAWS forecaster Mduduzi Mthembu said they received reports of light snow near Kokstad.

Edwin Thema, a forecaster at the SAWS office in Pretoria told The Witness that snow had fallen along the Drakensberg, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Free State.

Mthembu said the mercury had fallen to minus two degrees Celsius in Mooi River on Saturday night.

“We are expecting the weather in KZN to remain cold but clear,” Mthembu added.

Many visitors to Lesotho — some of whom were stranded for hours in their cars — were forced to spend the weekend at Afriski, which received the stranded people with open arms.

George, a personal fitness trainer who owns a small gym in Durban, said he encountered fellow motorists in trouble after initially failing to secure accommodation at Afriski.

“I came up Sani Pass on Saturday morning headed toward Afriski. I went further and it began to snow around lunchtime. Afriski was fully booked so I went further on and encountered the stranded drivers. I had chains on my vehicle, so I helped about eight drivers and some passengers. The snow was very thick in certain places,” George said.

George and the drivers — as well as other stranded visitors — eventually secured makeshift accommodation at Afriski.

The resort’s hospitality manager Heather Grundy said motorists were stranded at three spots along the Moteng Path near the resort.

She said although some guests were forced to stay a night or two longer, they were thankful for the safe and warm accommodation.

“The visitors were very lucky. Some people walked to us from their cars. Everyone has been willing to help out … it’s a bit of an emergency situation. Some people had a traumatic night. We will accommodate people wherever we can — for example the staff canteen … and we’re using every vacant bed we find in chalets. We hosted a major skiing and snowboarding competition, the King’s Cup, on Saturday. It’s a strong local event … but it only ran for about two-and-a-half hours due to a blizzard,” said Grundy.

Afriski expected to accommodate about 250 people in the resort last night.

Ashref Ismail, manager of enforcement coordination at the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) said the snowy weather resulted in several road closures on Saturday and yesterday, along the N1 (at Beaufort West in the Western Cape) and the N12 (at Victoria West in the Northern Cape).

Although no casualties were recorded, truck drivers and other motorists were left stranded for several hours.

Ismail added that heavy rains and flooding in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape also resulted in road closures over the weekend.

SA Police Service spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed that the Police and the eThekwini Municipality removed trees that had fallen along the R603 Umbumbulu road in KZN due to heavy winds yesterday morning.

Ismail added that about 1 500 vehicles were recorded travelling northbound (in the direction of Johannesburg) yesterday afternoon at the Mooi River toll plaza. This figure was more than double the average traffic volume at the toll plaza.

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