Twenty rescued in Durban flash-floods

Search-and-rescue workers saved 20 people trapped in cars and homes by rising water in a heavy overnight downpour in Durban.

“We used a police boat to move many people away from the Island Hotel in Isipingo and we assisted several others who were stuck in cars due to rising flood water,” the police’s search-and-rescue unit commander Captain Troy Alison said on Wednesday.

In addition, Durban’s St Augustine’s Hospital was struck by lightning.

“The north corner of surgical ward five was struck by lightning,” said Netcare general manager Augusta Dorning.

“While no great damage was done, the nurses calling-system started to malfunction, a few minor leaks appeared and some electrical wiring got scorched,” she said.

Dorning said patients were immediately moved to another ward while technical experts inspected the damage and extinguished the “smouldering bits of wiring on the roof”.

One of the resident doctors at the hospital’s consulting room reported that a ceiling had also collapsed.

“As a cautionary measure, the fire department were called to further investigate the situation ... and to make absolutely sure there was no danger to any patients or staff in other wards.

The provincial health department reported that Umlazi’s Prince Mshiyeni Hospital was also affected by the heavy rains.

Department spokesperson Leon Mbangwa said the out-patients department, pharmacy and the surgical stores at the hospital were flooded.

“Patients are currently housed at a shelter, while the flooded areas are being cleared,” he said.

Mudslides, pools

Several Durban roads were closed on Wednesday after torrential rains caused mudslides and deep pools.

The downpour affected, among others, the suburbs of Merebank, Umlazi, Chatsworth, Pinetown, Isipingo, Yellowwood Park, Amanzimtoti, Prospecton, and Durban North.

The Sapref and Engen refineries were also affected on Wednesday.

Sapref was shut down completely while 10% of Engen was non-operational.

Officials from Sapref said water had caused major damage and a lot of the equipment had been affected. They said it would take a few days for Sapref to be up and running again.

Engen’s general manager, Willem Oosthuizen, meanwhile said fuel delivery may be affected during this week.

He said diesel would be almost non-existent over the next few days and there may be some petrol shortages as well.

Water had covered most parts of Tara Road linking Merebank to the Bluff.
It is on this road that Engen is situated. It was unclear which parts of Engen had been affected by the rains.

Metrorail also encountered problems during the downpour.

Spokesperson Thandi Mkhize said several lines in Reunion, Crossmoor, Merebank, the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, Isipingo and Kelso were affected when the communication system went out.

“Several sections of the south coast line were washed away or had mudslides which rendered the line unsafe to use,” she said.

Rail services in Isipingo, Crossmoor and Kelso had been suspended until repairs could be done.

Mkhize said buses would be operational in those areas for commuters over the next few days.

“Commuters will be informed when services are restored,” she said.

eThekwini Emergency Services head Henry Manzi said four houses in Umlazi had collapsed while several shacks were completely washed away.

“Those homes and shacks situated near the river banks were worst affected but there were no serious injuries,” he said.

Manzi and the eThekwini Disaster Management were visiting areas affected by the flash-floods to assess the damages.

“Damages were quite extensive and at this stage it may run into the thousands or even millions, but we can’t really say for now,” he said.

Fire department divisional commander Owen Singh said water swept through several shack settlements.

Motorists abandon cars

Firemen had to rescue some motorists trapped by rising water in Edwin Swales.

The motorists were found sitting on top of their cars. “Firemen had to take them off their cars and put them on the fire tender.”

They were temporarily sheltered at the fire station while the downpour continued.

ER24 spokesperson Derrick Banks said roads in Merebank were flooded and several cars submerged.

“There were also reports of walls collapsing and many car accidents were reported but there were no serious injuries,” he said.

Metro police spokesperson Superintendent John-Thomas Tyala said mud slid from road banks onto busy roads.

“It was thick, because a truck and car even got stuck in the mud and called for assistance,” he said.

In Merebank, there were reports of water levels so high that water was seeping into people’s homes, Tyala said.

He said the emergency services had advised residents to temporarily evacuate the area.

The Durban weather bureau said Merebank, in the Durban South basin, was one of the areas worst affected by the rains. Umlazi, was second on the list.

An official at the bureau, who did not want to be named, said 166,8mm of rain was recorded within two hours of the storm.

Metro police officer Inspector Deveneran Pillay, who lives in Merebank said the area near the racecourse was completely submerged.

“People were helping each other, breaking walls to get people out of houses. The water levels were up to 1,8m. Cars were floating and completely submerged,” he said.

“No one picked up their [phones]. We tried to contact emergency services and disaster management and no one came out.”

Manzi however said: “We did not receive any reports of incidents last night. People only reported incidents from this morning.”

Pillay said people were awake in the early hours of Wednesday assisting each other.

“It’s a disaster, a total disaster… pre-cast walls have fallen down and there is not one official to help these people.”

Meanwhile, court proceedings at several courtrooms in the Umlazi magistrate’s, regional and equality courts had to be postponed on Wednesday after water seeped into courtrooms, affecting recording equipment.

eThekwini Disaster Management deputy head Mark te Water was not immediately available for comment. - Sapa

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