The death toll from severe flooding in South Africa has risen to more than 300. As of Wednesday evening, 306 deaths had been reported in the greater Durban area, the spokeswoman for the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Disaster Management Bureau told AFP. Days of heavy rain had triggered flooding and landslides in the region on the east coast of the country.
The figures are provisional because many people are still missing. The military was also mobilized to provide disaster relief. The storm is considered the worst severe weather disaster on record in South Africa.
According to the authorities, more than 2,000 houses and 4,000 shacks were damaged in the port city of Durban and the surrounding metropolitan area of eThekwini. In the township of Clermont, a church was completely destroyed and four children were killed by a falling wall.
“We usually see tragedies like this in other countries like Mozambique and Zimbabwe, but now we are the ones affected,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday during a visit to Clermont. “Our biggest concern is the number of bodies we find,” said Provincial Minister Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu. “Our morgues are filling up fast.”
The rescue work was difficult because many roads were washed away and bridges were torn down by the water masses. The situation was also complicated because of the failure of hundreds of radio masts due to landslides and a dilapidated infrastructure.
Several bridges in Durban also collapsed as a result of the flooding. The largest port in Africa had to shut down operations because the main access road was blocked. Cars and shipping containers were swept away by the floods. Some streets were so badly flooded that only the tips of the traffic lights were sticking out of the water. The train service was stopped.
The provincial government said the disaster caused “immeasurable devastation”. The police sent 300 additional officers to the region. The military dispatched Air Force planes to help with rescue operations.
The heaviest rainfall in more than 60 years had been measured in the region in the past few days. More than 450 millimeters of rain fell in parts of KwaZulu-Natal in 48 hours, according to meteorologist Tawana Dipuo of the South African Weather Service. That’s nearly half of Durban’s annual rainfall.
It continued to rain in parts of the city on Wednesday. A flood warning was also issued for the neighboring province of Eastern Cape. From Wednesday evening, however, according to the meteorologists, an improvement in the weather was in sight.
The coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal on the Indian Ocean is one of the country’s most important holiday destinations and had actually already prepared for the traditional Easter rush of domestic and foreign tourists.