KZN tornado claims at least 2 lives, 20 reported injured

Destruction in Durban following heavy rains, floods and a tornado. (@GovernmentZA, Twitter)
Destruction in Durban following heavy rains, floods and a tornado. (@GovernmentZA, Twitter)

The extent of severe storms and a tornado that hit parts of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on Tuesday is yet to be determined, but two human casualties and 20 injuries had been reported by Wednesday morning.

The injured were treated for minor to moderate injuries at the Mpolweni settlement near Wartburg in the province on Tuesday night.

According to ER24 spokesperson Ross Campbell, paramedics arrived at 17:20 after having received a call from disaster management and search-and-rescue to assist on the scene.

"Provincial medics were already on the scene, having assisted with nine patients. Two adults were unfortunately declared dead on the scene. ER24 set up a triage area and treated and transported a further nine patients for minor to moderate injuries to various hospitals in the area," Campbell said.

"Provincial [emergency services] also transported a further two [injured], bringing the total injured on scene to 20. An adult woman who had suffered serious injuries as a result of losing control of her vehicle during the storm was treated with advanced life support interventions before being taken to Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg for further care."

PICS | 9 images of the devastating KZN tornado aftermath - uprooted trees, dead chickens and a lonesome flower 

According to Campbell, many animals were reported to have been injured or killed in the area and power lines are also down.

On Tuesday, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) in KwaZulu-Natal activated councillors and volunteers to assist affected communities after what has been described as a tornado hit New Hanover, Pietermaritzburg.

The tornado, according to the department, "ripped through the area, injuring scores of people and damaging homes and public infrastructure".

This was confirmed to News24 by the South African Weather Service (SAWS) forecaster Edward Engelbrecht. "It was a tornado on Tuesday afternoon in New Hanover, Pietermaritzburg".

He said a team is yet to rate the scale of the damage caused by the tornado.

On Wednesday morning, KZN CoGTA spokesperson Senzelwe Mzila told News24 that CoGTA MEC Sipho Hlomuka and KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala were on their way to affected areas to assess the damage. 

"The MEC and Premier will be leading interim relief measures in the area. We will soon be able to provide more information on the extent of the damage and whether any casualties or injuries have been reported."

Mzila said teams were working throughout Tuesday night to provide relief in the area. 

News24 reported on Tuesday that Hlomuka said preliminary reports received by the department indicated a number of people, who had sustained injuries, were receiving medical treatment at surrounding hospitals.

"A number of homes have collapsed, countless trees have been uprooted and the electricity supply in the area has been interrupted. Our teams are working hard to provide support to the affected communities. There are fears of possible missing people and deaths."

Engelbrecht told News24 that some of the videos going viral on social media indicate a supercell thunderstorm, which often have a propensity to produce severe weather, such as damaging winds and sometimes tornadoes.

READ | KZN govt dispatches disaster management team following tornado, fears possibility of missing, dead people

He also cautioned against a hoax message making the rounds on social media about a tornado heading to Durban.

Severe thunderstorms can be expected to continue on Wednesday afternoon for parts on KZN, while heavy rainfall, leading to localised flooding is anticipated for Thursday and Friday, Engelbrecht said.

Meanwhile, power utility Eskom said the infrastructure at its Mersey substation was also affected by the weather.

In a statement, its spokesperson, Joyce Zingoni, said: "The storm was in the area around the Mersey substation which led to the 33kV Mpolweni feeder tripping."

Teams have been dispatched to evaluate the damage, but Zingoni have warned there might be power interruptions.

"Eskom will only be able to ascertain the affected customers after the evaluation." 

- additional reporting by Adiel Ismail

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