SA reeling as floods wreck havoc

A fireman has drowned and countless other people are missing after massive flooding around Gauteng on Monday.

The fireman, Henry Knox (42), and his colleague were in their canoe on a search-and-rescue operation in the Centurion area when they hit a violent rapid. The canoe capsized and Knox was swept away.

Johan Pieterse, spokesperson for Tshwane community safety department, said Knox was found a while later. Emergency workers tried to resuscitate him for 40 minutes.

“It’s very sad, he didn’t make it,” said Pieterse.

At least seven people seen being swept away by the floods in the area had not been found by Monday afternoon.

A man who had been swept away in his car and had managed to clamber on to the roof told rescuers he saw at least seven people being pushed down the river past him.

At the Centurion Lake Hotel residents and staff had to be evacuated as water rose knee-high in the parking lot outside.

The hotel was cordoned off with red tape while water was being pumped out of the basement. Guests were earlier moved to the nearby Protea Hotel in Centurion and hotels in Sandton, Johannesburg.

General manager Robert Hodson, who had arrived at the hotel at 3.20am, stood outside watching as staff and rescuers tried to clear water out of the flooded reception area.

Hodson expected the hotel to be up and running again by Thursday.

House-to-house headcounts
“The flow of the water was quite violent and it was a little bit frightening,” said William Baloyi, a spokesperson for the Tshwane community safety department.

Emergency services staff carried out house-to-house headcounts at the smallholdings dotted along the Hennops River, which passes through the area.

Baloyi said four people were rescued in separate incidents after they were swept away in their vehicles as the Hennops River pushed through Centurion.

“Our concentration is on the smallholdings, moving from house to house and checking,” said Baloyi.

Emergency workers were told of a number of people who were unaccounted for, but were hoping they had simply stayed away from home for the night.

Netcare 911 spokesperson Jeffrey Wicks said two women were found sitting on top of their cars after being swept away by the Hennops River in Irene, Centurion, late on Sunday night.

“The women, separated by several hundred metres, spent hours precariously atop the roofs of their submerged vehicles after the river broke its banks,” he said.

Further south, 34 people were evacuated after emergency calls started coming through after midnight from Thembakazi informal settlement, Johannesburg emergency services spokesperson Percy Morokane said.

“There were fast moving torrential currents of water. People were under threat of being washed away.”

People were evacuated from Rabie Ridge and Ebony Park.

Floods also hit country schools at eight villages in the Mutale area in the Vhembe district of Limpopo.

Teachers and pupils were unable to reach the schools in Damani, Tshipaeko, Mkwarani, Vhutalu, Tshidzivhe, Tshilungwi, Tshitangani and Mudzidzi, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Another two people were missing and about 400 were evacuated after the Orange River flooded between Upington and Kakamas in the Northern Cape.

Higher ground
Spokesperson for the Siyanda district municipality Gilbert Lategan said police divers and air force personnel were on the look out for two people apparently missing after walking near the flooded river.

About 400 residents on 21 islands had been moved to higher ground or places of safety in the district in the past week.

At the Keimoes school hostel people were given food and shelter. Another 65 were been accommodated at the Roman Catholic hall at Kanon Island.

About 100 people from Pokkies Island near Upington were also helped with food and shelter.

South African National Defence Force (SANDF) spokesperson Colonel Kobus Etzebeth said helicopters would again visit some islands along the Orange River to supply food parcels.

The SANDF would help residents cut off by flooding who were in need of urgent medicine.

The air force was also working in collaboration with police divers to look for missing people or help those cut off from supplies and services.

WeatherSA forecaster Bransby Bulo predicted more rain later on Monday and on Tuesday, except in the Western Cape, which would see rain again from Wednesday.

Bulo said the rains were being driven by a weather system over Botswana that was pushing moisture southward from Central Africa.

‘Extraordinary times’
The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has recommended that 28 municipalities, including Johannesburg and Tshwane, be declared disaster areas. Heavy flooding over the past month has claimed 40 lives, displaced thousands and caused millions of rands in damages.

“According to reports received from the provinces, a total of 40 people have lost their lives as a result of flooding and incidents of lightning, thunderstorms and tornadoes between mid-December to date,” said Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka.

“The latest information gathered by the National Disaster Management Centre is that more than 6 000 people nationally have been displaced by the floods.

“In terms of infrastructural damages, reports received so far from the Northern Cape, North West and KwaZulu-Natal provinces indicate an estimated damage to the tune of R50-million, R6-million and R300-million respectively.”

Shiceka said funding was needed for humanitarian relief, the repair and upgrading of public infrastructure, agricultural relief and repairs to damaged houses.

“These are extraordinary times call for extraordinary interventions and measures from all of us,” Shiceka said. — Sapa

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