Visibly moved, President Cyril Ramaphosa made his way around the Chatsworth area yesterday afternoon, to survey some of the damage from the deadly storm that swept through KwaZulu-Natal on Monday night.
“My God,” whispered Ramaphosa as he was shown the remains of a groundskeeper’s cottage at a school in Chatsworth, Durban, where eight bodies – including those of children – were retrieved on Monday night and Tuesday.
The home was shared by three families and collapsed during a mudslide, the result of about 300mm of heavy rain that pounded the province but was particularly intense in Chatsworth, Malvern and Umlazi, all part of eThekwini Municipality.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube and her Human Settlements counterpart Ravi Pillay pointed out the scene of the tragedy to Ramaphosa, who arrived in the province after leaving an AU emergency meeting early.
Also joining him on the walkabout were Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize, Police Minister Bheki Cele and eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede.
Ramaphosa said the death toll was close to 60, after Dube-Ncube had earlier said it stood at 51. The president visited other areas ravaged by the storm, and then travelled to the Eastern Cape, which also experienced severe flooding that by yesterday had resulted in three known deaths.
“We are saddened by what happened here (Chatsworth area) But we also want to commend the rescue services at national level, at provincial level and at local government level,” said Ramaphosa. “Our hearts go out to all those families and all people who have been very badly affected with this. The force of nature is so huge, and this is partly what climate change is about; that it just hits when we least expect it.”
The president said Treasury would release money to help fund disaster relief efforts in KwaZulu-Natal.Ramaphosa also visited Burlington Heights in Durban, where flooding has displaced about 200 people. Jakes Singh, chairperson of the Chatsworth Community Policing Forum, said residents, police and emergency services worked throughout the night on Monday and much of Tuesday to clear debris so they could reach bodies.
A person was rescued from the groundskeeper’s home late on Monday, and one of the eight bodies was recovered that night. A plant hire firm had brought an excavator and a truck-and-crane to the site to lift the walls and collapsed roof.
Singh also paid tribute to the local AFM Miracle Tabernacle church, which helped with the recovery operation and accommodated surviving members of the families that lived at the home.
The church’s pastor, Jonathan Naidoo, had joined the president during his visit, to pray for the dead and their loved ones.
Singh said the Chatsworth community had been helping the homeless there. “We housed them at a creche and a hall at Bottlebrush. Arrangements have been made for more accommodation.” The flooding had caused huge damage in Chatsworth and surrounds. A family had been trapped in their Montford home. The fire department had to cut through a boundary wall to free them.