Long wait, big clean-up

2013-01-08 00:00

SUNDAY afternoon’s flash storm in the Midlands, preceded by hurricane-like winds, caused major infrastructural damage, with hundreds of electricity poles uprooted in various suburbs.

Residents who have been without power since Sunday were warned that it might be a while before their electricity is restored, given the extent of the damage.

By last night, nobody at city hall was prepared to estimate by when power would be restored.

The Witness learnt that teams of electricity workers were combing the suburbs for fallen poles and snapped overhead wires to repair.

Yesterday, the suburbs still without power included parts of Prestbury, Pelham, the CBD, Hilton, Montrose, Scottsville, Eastwood, Woodlands, Mountain Rise, Northdale and Masons Mill.

The frustration for many residents was that they did not have lights, but they could see that their neighbours had electricity.

In one street, every other house had lights. In another, the houses downstairs had electricity but not those upstairs. And not all of Hilton was plunged in darkness.

Municipal speaker Babu Baijoo said restoring the electricity supply in the various areas was taking time because it was not whole suburbs that had been affected, with one faulty substation that could be repaired.

He said private contractors had been brought in to help; there were teams from Eskom as well as crews from other municipalities.

Baijoo said the municipality was not dealing only with the electricity outages; its main priority throughout the day was helping more than 600 families across the city whose houses had been damaged in the storm.

He said there were families who had been left homeless and whose furniture and other possessions had been damaged.

The storm cut a swathe of destruction through Howick, Pietermaritzburg and uMshwathi (Wartburg).

Howick Municipality had to deal with fallen trees and damaged houses, particularly in the informal settlements.

However, Mayor Mbali Myeni said the municipality was fortunate in that the infrastructure had remained intact and the town had power.

uMshwathi suffered a similar fate as Msunduzi, with power cables and telephones lines blown over, leaving the entire town without electricity. The water supply was also disrupted after a pipeline to the Trust Feed area was damaged.

Municipal manager Vincent Cebekhulu said Trust Feed was without water for the entire day while the pipe was being fixed.

He said the municipal offices were being run on a generator and no computers were working.

Cebekhulu said Telkom and Eskom technicians had worked for the entire day and the municipality was told it was possible that power would be restored by today.

Meanwhile, a major source of frustration for many Pietermaritzburg and Hilton residents was not so much the power outages as the fact that they could not get through to the municipality by phone.

Baijoo said city hall was also affected by the storm; some telephone lines were down and rainwater pouring through a damaged ceiling had damaged some computer servers.

None of the senior municipal managers were available last night.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi and the head of the electricity department, Sabatha Nomnganga, were said to be “out in the field”.

Retired engineer Howard Richardson said he did not doubt that the municpality was doing its best, but all residents wanted to know was when their power would be restored.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the United States in mid-winter last year, it took the authorities a week to get the power restored to some parts.

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