Zille commends efforts in 'biggest disaster rescue operation in SA history'

2017-06-12 20:53
A helicopter flies with a water bucket to extinguish nearby fires in the coastal town of Knysna. (Halden Krog, AP)

A helicopter flies with a water bucket to extinguish nearby fires in the coastal town of Knysna. (Halden Krog, AP)

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Cape Town - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on Monday commended all those who had helped the thousands caught up in devastating fires in Knysna.

"What we saw in the last week was an unprecedented natural disaster that required an unprecedented response," she said.

"Once again, South Africans have proven their resilience when faced with difficult situations."

She said the evacuation of at least 10 000 residents from Knysna and surrounding areas, was the biggest disaster rescue operation in local history, according to disaster management officials.

The fires, which claimed seven lives and destroyed many people's homes and possessions, spanned at least 100km2.

A team of 1 106 firefighters from the province and elsewhere rushed to tackle the blaze.

READ: #KnysnaFires claim seventh life

'Truly heart-breaking'

By Monday, all "major life-threatening fires" had been brought under control. Zille said mop-up operations were ongoing.

She said the provincial cabinet would meet in Knysna on Wednesday to assess the extent of the damage.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane encouraged South Africans to continue showing support to Knysna.

"The tourism industry in Knysna is key to job creation and the economy in this area, and it has naturally taken a severe blow. Out of tragedy, we must all work together to rebuild lives," he said.

Maimane spent Monday in Knysna visiting areas including Concordia, White Location, and Welbedacht.

Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies took him to the joint operations centre, the headquarters for rescue operations which she had established.

"The situation is truly heartbreaking. I am told that six people have lost their lives as a direct result of these fires," Maimane said.

"One man I met [on Monday] has lost both his wife and his 6-year-old daughter, and the home they lived in. People's lives, like the landscape itself, lie in ashes."

Western Cape social development MEC Albert Fritz would arrive in Knysna later on Monday to get an update on the services being offered. Teams of social workers were offering trauma counselling to residents.

Social Relief of Distress (SRD) teams were identifying those who needed social relief and distress grants.

Names of potential recipients had to be given to the South African Social Security Agency, which was responsible for disbursing the grants.

SRD grants are a temporary relief measure issued for three months. An extension of a further three months can be granted in exceptional cases. 

Read more on:    mmusi maimane  |  helen zille  |  cape town  |  knysna fires  |  fires

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