A resident of Westville was able to take this pic from her first-floor apartment in Westcott Road, Durban
Photo – Nokukhanya Sithole
Durban – More than 250 people have been killed and many more unaccounted for after four days of heavy rain left Durban in ruins. Roads, infrastructure, and homes have been hit hard by flash floods.
Weather stations have recorded unprecedented amounts of rainfall. The Mbazwana Airfield station measured 206.4mm of rain on Monday, 11 April, which annihilated its previous record of 62.6mm of rain. Other stations also set a record including one near La Lucia which recorded 126.8mm of rain in twenty-four hours. Its previous high being 114mm. Both stations saw more rain on Monday than would typically fall throughout several months.
Search and rescue operations were in full effect. Rivers burst their banks causing widespread floods, covering roads in mud, collapsing homes, and washing cars away.
Emergency rescue services worked throughout the night responding to calls, trying to evacuate people from areas that were hard hit as well as digging through rubble to rescue those that were trapped in their homes. Bilal Adamjee, a humanitarian, said he had never experienced such heavy rain and wind as he did on Monday night.
“We were driving home, and we noticed that a lot of the roads had started flooding, and a few trees had fallen over onto the road. We checked into our Zello group and from there we started hearing of people’s houses flooding, they needed help and assistance in Asherville, in Springtown, in Overport, in Springfield Park. People were calling me from all over for assistance and that’s how the night started, and it just never stopped.”
Floods cause widespread damage
Durban recorded staggering rainfall. Virginia Airport recorded 351mm of rainfall over twenty-four hours, which was more than double the previous rainfall record of 165mm in April 2019 during the Easter floods. Due to the heavy rain, many homes had their walls collapse, said Adamjee.
“We found retaining walls had collapsed and when that collapsed the planks came down into their homes and thrashed into homes. People got kept in their homes. We had one incident where a three-month-old baby, two-year-old child, mother, and father were trapped inside the house because the retaining wall collapsed into their home. We had to go out there and get them out.”
In another incident an entire room collapsed. Three floors started flooding right through. Adamjee and his team had to start evacuating everyone in that building. Not only was it a tough task to evacuate people but it was an even tougher task to get to them as “the banks had collapsed and water filled the roads which restricted access,” said Adamjee.
Many lives were lost including Sheikh Abdur Rasheed Madyawa who was a Muazzin [a person who calls people to prayer] at the Masjid Banu Hashim, Lady Bruce Road, Morningside. The masjid had collapsed early Tuesday morning due to the heavy rainfall. A TLB and a Bobcat were used to remove the rubble. After eleven hours of digging, his body was found.
Nokukhanya Sithole, a resident of Westville, wasn’t worried at first about the heavy rains until the lights were cut. Then the realisation set in that something could be wrong. It was at this time she noticed that the carpet was wet, water was entering the house and a roof that never leaks, was dripping.
The heavy rain continued which brought extreme damage. Sithole explained that a house on her road, Westcott Road, was severely damaged as well as cars in the area.
“There is extreme damage on my road. A house has been damaged. About four or five cars have been written off. Just on Westcott Road. My neighbour received minor damage as he was trying to move his car. On Tuesday morning, one of our neighbour’s walls shot straight down and as it rolled down, it collapsed into four cars and those are written off. My neighbour’s other car went through his window.”
Her neighbour and kids were not at home when the wall collapsed. Further up, a house was flooded, and the occupants were injured. Roads are damaged and trees lie all over. Cars in Westville make up the bulk of damaged items as Sithole noted that most, if not all, look like they have been in some accident.
Two of her neighbours sustained injuries including the man who tried to move his car. He sustained injuries to his leg. Another neighbour, Sithole described, had to be pulled through the window by paramedics to receive treatment as her house was flooded and access to her was restricted.
Now, everyone is stuck in their homes and with the soil still soft, there is a fear that if a mudslide were to occur, it would be extremely difficult to get to anywhere safe. Everyone in the area is still in shock, trying to come to terms with what has happened. For Sithole, things are even more terrifying for her as she is away from home. She was supposed to travel back home today but is second guessing it after watching a water truck get swept away during the floods.
Floods leave thousands displaced
Various community halls throughout the Durban area are being used to house people who have been displaced. Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Founder of Gift of the Givers Foundation, understands the severity of the situation while also noting it is not just affecting the low-lying areas.
“It is affecting the high lying areas also. It’s not only the low-lying areas here. You see the pictures of the area on the M2, that’s the old Durban airport, and we realised that this flood is far worse than the one we had during Easter in 2019.”
Dr Sooliman expects the rain to stop today and then the true extent of the damage that was caused can be assessed. Gift of Givers understands that people will not want to move away from where they live, especially those living in informal settlements, so their first step is to provide them with basic goods.
“They will lose their spot. So, the least you could do is provide coffee on site. People in high-risk areas should move to high ground. They’ll require basic stuff, new clothing … Certain areas require replacement of sheeting as well.”
Ahmed Osman, Human Aid SA, explained that the damage is on two fronts. For suburbs, the drainage systems have failed them which led to water not having an escape route. This then meant the streets were flooded and houses as well. For those living in the mountainous areas, mudslides were the leading cause of homes collapsing and being destroyed.
Informal settlements were impacted the most as homes were toppled, and people were left buried under the mud. For Osman, this was a harrowing sight to see.
“When we went out to assist those that had lost their homes and their belongings, several people that we found were lying covered up. Families that had passed away because their homes collapsed because of this mountainous landslide that resulted in toppling over their entire homes with the families in it.”
Death toll expected to rise
The death toll currently stands at more than 253 people but Osman believes it will continue to rise based on what he has seen on the ground and the devastation that the mudslides and floods have caused. Osman said those who are displaced number in the thousands.
“One part of one informal settlement alone, we had a few hundred people that were affected. That was just one part of the settlement … We visited a few and besides the informal settlements, we have so many homes where internal walls and roofs have collapsed. Thousands of lives are going to change after this.”
Durban port was also affected. Containers at the port were carried away by the floods onto the M2. These containers were also reportedly looted. There are also videos of Maersk containers being looted after trucks were left in yards. Looting was also reported to be taking place at Umlazi megacity mall, SAB Prospecton Brewery and South Coast mall.
Electricity and water have also been affected by the floods. Some substations are flooded. Municipality teams have already been mobilised to repair the substation that has been impacted but no timeline has been given. There are also other substations that need to be rebuilt which will also create a further delay in restoring full power.
Ashraf Garda talks to forecaster Lehlohonolo Thobela and humanitarian Bilal Adamjee: