Metal thieves dry out Durban

2014-06-10 00:00

PARTS of Durban were plunged into a water crisis after metal thieves caused the collapse of the Reservoir Hills water pipe-supporting steel bridge last night. The thieves chipped off the steel structure over a period of time, removing the metal structure piece by piece until it could no longer support the two huge water pipes. The repairs will cost the city millions of rands.

The pipes supply water from the water reservoir to Inanda, Umhlanga, parts of Durban north, kwaMashu, Inanda, Ntuzuma, Phoenix and La Lucia. The pipes are lying at the bottom of the uMgeni River and have possibly been destroyed.

Neil McLeod, head of water and sanitation in eThekwini Municipality, said the ramifications for the city’s water supply are catastrophic.

McLeod said gross vandalism had meant the municipality is operating with 30 to 40% of its water supply.

“We went to the site and we will have a meeting this morning to discuss the disaster. The bridge is 50 years old and this has never happened before,” said McLeod.

He said it would take some time to repair the structure but the main priority is to get the water flow back to normal first and then focus on repairing the bridge.

“We will need millions of rands to fix the damage. But first, we need the pipelines back on a temporary structure to enable a free flow of water. Then we will focus on having the bridge up, but we might need to change its design because we can’t have the same design which was easily accessible to metal thieves. With the new structure we need to ensure that the cables and water pipes are well secured and that it won’t be easy for thieves to access them,” he said.

MacLeod called East Coast Radio last night and took to the air, urging residents in the northern parts of the city to use water sparingly as the supply in the reservoirs would only be enough for two days. He urged anyone with concerns to telephone the Water and Sanitation Department for enquiries at 031 311 8600.

When contacted for comment yesterday evening, Heinz de Boer, DA councillor in Durban north, said he was not aware of the collapsed bridge.

“The administration could have had the common decency to inform the councillors who would need to field all the calls. We are already struggling with water supplies in the north — its capacity is not what it should be. The northern aquaduct is not up and running yet — they are still busy laying the pipes. Areas in Ntumzuma and kwaMashu do not even have water. This is a catastrophe — hundreds of thousands of people without water, and no statement has been put out to us,” said De Boer.

He said the demand will be huge on the other reservoirs.

A lack of police visibility around the installations played a part in the sabotage, Satish Dhupelia, Sydenham community policing forum spokesperson, said last night. “This was bound to happen because there were no check points at the installations.” He blamed scrap metal shops for buying stolen material, something that encourages thieves to continue stealing from existing structures.

“This is sad and it’s time that the authorities took scrap metal theft seriously. This is huge — you have hundreds of thousands of people without water. With harsher jail terms metal and cable theft could be slowed down. The municipality should have check points set up at all remaining installations,” said Dhupelia.

THIS is not the first time metal thieves have targeted a city bridge. In 2012 stolen metal shackles caused the collapse of the pedestrian portion of the Ellis Brown Viaduct over Durban’s uMgeni River.

At the time eThekwini Municipality’s road systems deputy head Carlos Esteves told Sapa the thieves somehow managed to get under the bridge, which is several metres above the river, and steal the stainless steel shackles.

The bridge was built in the 1950s and connects central Durban with the northern coastal suburbs, such as La Lucia and Umhlanga.

“The collapse was unforeseen because the thieves were stealing the connectors under the bridge. We’re amazed that they were able to access that area,” Esteves said.

He said the stolen steel was not exceptionally valuable.

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