‘Business as usual’ in flood-ravaged areas

Tourism officials said this week it is ”business as usual” after severe floods hit the South Africa’s southern coast.

”Although the damage to property has been significant, the fact that the floods took place before the official start of the holiday season could prevent huge economic losses for the tourism sector.

”All tourism role players and municipal departments are working together to ensure that we are geared for the start of our spectacular summer season,” said Bitou (Plettenberg) tourism CEO Dianna Martin.

Craig Nancarrow, head of tourism in the Knysna and Sedgefield area, told the Mail & Guardian Online: ”The water has receded and mopping-up operations are under way. The Knysna area has not been affected and everything is open and they are doing business as usual. The roads are also open and tourism is fine.”

Police said earlier this week that a 62-year-old man and a 12-year-old boy drowned as rivers burst their banks and roads were washed away in Eden district municipality, part of the Garden Route 490km south-east of Cape Town.

Shado Twala, spokesperson for the premier of the Western Cape, said the provincial government first wants to assess the extent of the flood damage before declaring the area a disaster zone, mainly because towns depend on tourist-generated revenue.

”It is difficult to sell it [the route] back to tourists if it was declared a disaster area … We don’t want to do this willy-nilly,” Twala said.

Nancarrow was angry at the ”ill-founded” reports on radio and television calling the area a disaster zone. ”The media have blown this out of proportion. Their facts are wrong and the misinformation is hurting those in the area. They should get their facts right first.”

Niek Koegelenberg, a forecaster at the Western Cape weather bureau, said the weather pattern was ”not unusual for the area”.

”We get 10 to 12 cut-off lows that bring this type of weather to the area each year. It is not part of anything larger and not affected by global warming. It happens mainly during the change in seasons.”

The floods affected the Little Brak River and its surrounding areas. All the main roads on the Mossel Bay side are open. About 350 people in Power Town, in Little Brak, were evacuated.

Gerhard Otto, chief of disaster management in Eden district municipality — which covers the Kannaland, Langeberg, Mossel Bay, George, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna municipalities — said that the roads are in a ”terrible state”.

”However, the main access routes have been cleared, except for the N9 to Union Town. About 1 500 people were evacuated form affected areas, most of whom have gone back to their homes because they say their homes are alright to live in.”

”We were not going to send them back to their homes until the homes were dry and fit to live in, but they decided that they want to go back and there is nothing we can do.”

Those who have not gone back to their homes are living in community and school halls.

”We look at places which we call mass care centres where we can shelter people. So when disasters like these happen we find centres that are closest to the affected communities, and in this case it is the Great Brak community hall and the Reebok community hall.”

Carl Opperman, CEO of AgriSA Western Cape, said wheat, sheep, dairy, ostrich and vegetable farmers were worst affected by the flooding.

”The water is still logged in the fields and infrastructure such as roads, water supplies, fences and dam walls were destroyed. There has also been a lot of soil erosion. The other thing is that plus-minus 15 000 tonnes of grain has been affected. On average, a tonne of grain cost R2 000. This grain will now be used as feed for the animals.”

Opperman also said that a large number of livestock such as sheep had been killed. Some drowned and others died of the intense cold as they had recently been sheared. On some dairy farms, transport services could not access the farms, resulting in the milk, nearing its expiry date, being ”released into the fields”.

He stressed, though, that the costs would have been higher had regional disaster-management services and the weather bureau not notified and warned farmers of the impending weather conditions. ”We will assess the damages and put measures into place so that we can return to normal and that we can assist the farmers affected.”

Ronelda Visser, a spokesperson for Bitou tourism, said: ”There is extensive damage to the pumps in the area and roads and some tourist destinations, but it should be all cleared up by December 5 and we will be ready for our bumper season.”

She also said that there have been no cancellations ”whatsoever”. Some accommodation facilities in the Keurboomstrand area are currently closed as part of the clean-up operations.

Visser added that water supplies in the area were interrupted during the flooding, but have now been restored. Road works are also under way in low-lying areas where roads were flooded. Crews are currently removing debris from roads in the Nature’s Valley, Kurland, Wittedrift, Keurboom and Cowie areas, but all roads are open to traffic.

”The debris washed up on to the beaches and that makes it look worse then it is,” said Visser. ”The debris washed down the river and landed on the beaches. The municipality has a group of 40 people help clear the debris from Central, Robberg and Keurboom beaches.

”For now the youngsters cannot hang around the beach, but once December comes around and the sun shines down, we will have pristine beaches.”

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Zahira Kharsany
Guest Author

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