'My house is going to fall down'

Hibiscus Coast protection services worked frantically on Wednesday, searching for people swept away in flooding brought on by heavy rains and aiding people who had been displaced.

The region has been declared a disaster area and is reported to be in a "critical state".

Four people, including two children, were confirmed dead while there were unconfirmed reports of eight people missing.

A 7-year-old died when a wall collapsed, a 14-year-old was washed away, and a 48-year-old drowned in the Port Shepstone area while a 40-year-old drowned at Umzinto.

Three people who were washed away at Bhobhoyi, near Port Shepstone, are yet to be found.

Hibiscus Coast protection services spokesperson Brian Dube described the situation as serious but hopeful.

He said 200 people from Bhobhoyi, 50 from Louisiana and a few from Port Edward were being housed in a community centre near Bhobhoyi.

Lessons at some Shelly Beach schools were suspended after roads were washed away.

A bakkie belonging to the Mercury Hibberdene Children's Home was washed away by flood waters. It was later salvaged with suspected water damage to the engine. Plans to use the home as a refuge for displaced people were abandoned when the home was threatened by flooding.

Several businesses in Port Shepstone were counting the costs of damage caused when the Mbango River broke its banks. South Coast Chamber of Commerce and Industry manager Helen de Jong said businesses in Marine Drive had been forced to close. A petrol station, a pet shop and two car dealerships were among the businesses affected.

"A lot of business equipment was damaged and some people were up to their knees in water," said De Jong.

Oceanview Road in Amanzimtoti crumbled into the sea after two days of downpours. As rain continued falling, more of the steep embankment was chipped away, with seaside properties slowly being eroded into the surf.

Rod and Moreen Neethling, fearing the worst, frantically packed valuables into bin bags and crammed these into their two cars.

"My house is going to fall down. I can't think straight. I don't know what to pack," said Moreen Neethling.

The couple planned to take refuge with their son, who lives in an area of Amanzintoti which had not been affected by the rain.

The Poinsettia Park old-age home in Amanzimtoti was also damaged, forcing the relocation of 36 residents. A resident said the bottom-level flats had been damaged in flooding six months ago.

"The flats had just been refurnished but are now damaged again," the woman said.

Bhobhoyi security guard Jabulani Bhengu said he awoke to screams from his neighbours about 2am on Wednesday as water flooded surrounding homes.

"This disaster has caused the community to suffer. People are stranded and many houses have washed away," he said.

Bhengu said there was an urgent need for food and warm clothing.

Florence Mbhele said her daughter, Nomthandazo Mbhele, 37, and two grandchildren climbed on to the roof of their house when it was flooded.

"The house collapsed, throwing us all into the water. We managed to get out of the water, but my daughter was washed away," she said.

Councillor Ronnie Naye said at an emergency disaster management meeting in Port Shepstone that emergency workers had been dispatched to the worst-hit areas by 11.30pm on Tuesday and the Ugu district had been declared a disaster area by 2am on Wednesday.

Naye said emphasis should be placed on ensuring that no more lives were lost and in evacuating certain areas.

He added that roads and areas prone to landslides should be assessed to avoid accidents.

Police Commissioner Frank Holloway said there were three confirmed deaths yesterday with eight unconfirmed reports of people missing.

Government officials are expected to visit the South Coast on Thursday to aid displaced people and to assess the damage.

Efforts to locate the sardine shoals, which were expected to hit Durban's main beaches this week, were hampered by "miserable" sea conditions. Natal Sharks Board chief executive officer Mike Anderson-Reade said rough seas coupled with dirty water conditions had hampered water visibility.

"Conditions are pretty miserable today; light to moderate winds and rough seas and swells are up to 2.5m in the inshore region," he said.

"Most of the rivers on the South Coast have come down, causing dirty water conditions."

An unusual phenomenon was reported by Clansthal resident June Holtzhausen, when freshwater perch fish washed up on the beach in front of her home. Holtzhausen said people were filling up bags with the fish which were usually found in lagoons and rivers.

  • This article was originally published on page 4 of The Mercury on June 19, 2008

Article by: Sinegugu Ndlovu & Yusuf Moolla - www.themercury.co.za