Durban, South Africa – Devastating floods left 253 dead in the South African city of Durban, the provincial health chief said on Wednesday, after hillsides washed away, homes collapsed, and more people were still feared missing.
The heaviest rains in 60 years pummelled Durban’s municipality, known as eThekwini. According to an AFP tally, the storm is the deadliest on record in South Africa.
Asked to update the death toll, provincial health chief Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu told eNCA television: “253 in eThekwini last night.”
“The biggest worry is the number of bodies we are finding,” she said. “Our mortuaries are under a bit of pressure, however we are coping.”
The United Methodist Church in the township of Clermont was reduced to a pile of rubble. Four children from a local family died when a wall collapsed on them.
Other homes hung precariously to the hillside, miraculously still intact after much of the ground underneath them washed away in mudslides.
The storm forced sub-Saharan Africa’s most important port to halt operations, as a main access road suffered heavy damage.
Shipping containers were tossed about, washed into mountains of metal.
Sections of other roads were washed away, leaving behind gashes in the earth bigger than large trucks.
“We see such tragedies hitting other countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, but now we are the affected ones,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said as he met with grieving families near the ruins of the church.
South Africa’s neighbours suffer such natural disasters from tropical storms almost every year, but Africa’s most industrialised country is largely shielded from the storms that form over the Indian Ocean.
These rains were not tropical, but rather caused by a weather system called a cut-off low that had brought rain and cold weather to much of the country.
When storms reached the warmer and more humid climate in Durban’s KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, even more rain poured down.