How many more should drown?

2013-01-12 00:00

WHILE Msunduzi Municipality delays the building of a proper bridge at the Woodhouse Road low-level bridge, lives continue to be lost.

The bridge connects Scottsville and the area near Sobantu.

On Thursday night, a car was washed off the bridge after heavy rains. Three men managed to swim to safety, but one is still missing.

Despite the municipality’s efforts of installing a boom gate there, when rescue workers tried to close the boom on Thursday night to prevent more people trying to cross the swollen river, they found the boom gate padlocked in an open position. They eventually resorted to cutting the padlocks to close the boom.

Police spokesperson Joey Jeevan said they called off the search for the missing man, whose name she was unable to reveal, as water levels were too high. The Mazda 323 was not visible in the swollen river yesterday. Police will continue their search once the water level has subsided.

Nthofela Rapitsi, who works at the nearby municipal dump site, told Weekend Witness that she uses that route to walk to work because she, and others who also walk over the bridge, are arrested if they use the alternative route and walk on the freeway.

“This route is dangerous to use, but we don’t have a choice as we have to go to work. If we don’t work we won’t have food at my house. Many people died crossing here last year, but we don’t have a choice; we have to take that risk,” said Rapitsi.

Yesterday, Rapitsi braved the knee-high water and crossed the bridge, despite the boom gate being lowered to stop people crossing.

Thule Sithole, who was also crossing the bridge to get to the dump site, said if a proper bridge was installed, it could make his life easier.

“The boom gates don’t prevent us walking past and some cars take a risk by going around the gate and crossing the river.”

Residents near the Grimthorpe Road bridge that connects Bishopstowe and Lincoln Meade were concerned that they too could not close the boom gates there to prevent people from using the bridge.

A farmer who asked not to be named, told Weekend Witness that from his home he could hear that the river was flooding.

“I went to the river to close the boom, but to my surprise, the boom gate was locked opened and there are no keys.

“We want to know who is responsible for closing the boom gates. On the other side, there used to be a floodlight which lit up the river so people could see when it was in flood, along with flashing warning lights, but they haven’t worked for years,” said the farmer.

“How many people must drown before the municipality can see that this is dangerous?”

Ward 36 councillor Thandi Matiwane said yesterday the low-level bridge had been a problem for years, with motorists and pedestrians dying when the river overflowed.

“We have been reporting this matter to the municipality, but they don’t take it seriously, as they only worry about the Dusi. They can build the bridge and the Dusi can still pass under the bridge,” she said.

The bridge was used by northern suburbs residents as an alternative route to Scottsville, said Matiwane.

She added that if the city’s budget is under strain, provincial government must assist.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said they will be investigating why the boom gates were not closed after last Sunday’s heavy storm.

“The roads and transport department of the municipality is responsible for opening and closing them. We will be investigating, but everyone should avoid these bridges and be very careful,” she said.

• mlondi.radebe

Some of those who have drowned at the Woodhouse Road bridge.

2006: Andile Maroba (7)

2009: Sphesihle Mabaso (8)

2010: Swastika Hansraj (21)

2012: Asogan Govender (44)

LIEUTENANT Jack Haskins of the Pietermaritzburg K9 Search and Rescue Unit, who has performed many body recoveries at the low-level bridge, said the water on the lower side of the bridge was usually about half-a-metre deep, but in flood conditions it reached around a metre deep, spreading out around the sides.

“The water flows very strongly and gets deeper further down the river. The river can swallow a car,” he said.

Haskins suggested that the municipality considers putting culverts on either side of the bridge to slow motorists down. He said it appeared that motorists who had been washed off the bridge may have came around the bend from the Woodhouse Road side approaching the river too fast, not realising the river was swollen.

“If they went through culverts they would be forced to slow down and would then have time to see the danger the river posed. When they are already in the water, it’s too late. They stop and try to reverse and the water takes the car.”

He said tyres just had to lose traction and lift by one millimetre to result in a car being swept away. People wading in the river also risked losing their footing.

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