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19 November 2010

Major tornado hit parts of Roodepoort on 26 November 1948

It has been 54 years since the last major tornado hit parts of Roodepoort. And it is still graphically remembered, thanks to Luce Pieterse, a guide at the Roodepoort Museum, who devoted five years to finding out exactly what happened on November 26 1948.

Says Pieterse: "The tornado struck at 6.05pm, leaving 500 damaged houses in its wake and killing four people.

"It came from the direction of Zuurbekom, passed over Doornkop and struck Roodepoort Durban Deep mine and then Roodepoort itself, particularly the Roodepoort North area, and then went on to the Northwest of Ferndale."

It is estimated that the tornado travelled at a speed of 320km per hour and affected 1,804 people in Roodepoort. In all 40 adults and 20 children were injured. Damage was estimated at £188,703.

"Immediately after the tornado, Roodepoort became a 'tourist' site, with many flocking to see the path of destruction. Unfortunately it also became a looters' paradise, with many trying their luck stealing some of the items blown out of the houses."

Cries for help from the victims were met with great sympathy. The Indian community for one, immediately reached out a helping hand by donating much-needed provisions and blankets.

The then mayor of Roodepoort, R D Corlett, sent out a message to SAPA the newspapers and the SABC. In his address he said: "Disaster, sorrow and death struck Roodepoort ... it took a few minutes for calamity, terrible in its consequences, to render people homeless and reducing a struggle of a lifetime to naught."

Says Pieterse "The cry for help was immediately responded to by people across the country, including the Red Cross, St John Ambulance, VAD and other organisations. The amount raised, including a pound-for-pound government grant, was £248 656."

She also tells of jealousies among residents that reared its ugly head after renovations to affected properties were completed. Residents had to apply through the then town engineer J Snell for repairs to be done.

"The green-eyed monster was very apparent. In one of Snell's reports he tells of a man who wanted to know why his house hadn't received flooring, while his neighbour's had, explaining that he urgently needed to know because his wife had already hit him with a telephone in a fit of jealous frustration."

Ironically the tornado proved a boon to many of the victims who were very poor after the war. The help they received after the tornado put them onto a new footing with improved housing, furniture and so on.

One of the tragicomedies to come out of an otherwise catastroptic happening, was the story told of completely denuded chickens found kilometres away, illustrating the force of the wind.

The Roodepoort Museum is displaying graphic photographs and other memorabilia to celebrate the anniversary of the tornado on Sunday 24 and Tuesday 26 November, but will be extended on request fiom the public. The museum is located in the Pro Musica Theatre on Christiaan de Wet Drive.

The display includes original reports by town planners, as well as newspaper clippings. A special feature is an original painting, only discovered recently, depicting then mayor and his deputy walking through the streets aflter the incident.


John Brock Computing Services cc

Link supplied by Julius Pistorius