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06 July 2011

Snow, hail, heavy rains batter Eastern Cape

TOO DEEP ...A motorist gets stuck in Driftwoods Road next to the Forest Hill cemetery in Port Elizabeth yesterday. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

Brian Hayward

HEAVY rains in the Eastern Cape brought a mixture of misery and joy yesterday, with extensive damage caused by giant hailstones, roads closed, hundreds evacuated from their homes, and word from officials that Nelson Mandela Bay’s supply dams could soon all be 100% full.

In East London, giant ice pellets rained down during an early morning storm, wreaking havoc and causing millions of rands of damage to businesses, such as the Vincent Park Shopping Centre where bricks of ice broke through the roof and littered shop floors.

In Grahamstown, where the National Arts Festival has hit its stride, festinos were nonplussed by the rain, which created impromptu dams on the Village Green fields. Hundreds of craft stall owners had to pack up and go home after security officials closed off the field.

Snowfalls were also reported in Hogsback.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, where up to 50mm was measured overnight and into yesterday morning, a heavy early morning deluge saw hundreds of residents in low-lying areas – mainly in the Greenbushes, Chatty and Kuyga informal settlements – evacuated from their flooded shacks and houses.

Parts of the N2 in the city were also closed in the morning due to flooding, causing rush-hour traffic jams.

Municipal spokesperson Kupido Baron said hundreds of shacks and houses in low-lying areas around the Bay had been flooded, with the affected residents moved to temporary shelters and community halls. At the flooded Veeplaas informal settlement, on the banks of the Chatty River, some residents refused to be evacuated, fearing their homes would be looted.

Nontsikelelo Nguta said she was worried about her 93-year-old father, who had to sleep in the kitchen because his bedroom was flooded.

Zusakhe Ndwalaza, 19, also from Veeplaas, said: “The people do not want to go and sleep at the community hall because they are afraid their homes will get broken into. My mother and I have been sleeping on the couch since the heavy rains started, as our bedroom is full of water.”

In East London, motorists were trapped in their cars on flooded roads, businesses had to close their doors, homes were damaged and trees were uprooted. Thousands of residents living in informal settlements were also affected.

Buffalo City Metro (BCM) spokesperson Keith Ngesi said 4000 people were affected in Mzamomhle and about 41 in Egoli. The city was organising blankets for all those who had been displaced. The flooding brought a halt to trading at some shops in the Vincent Park Shopping Centre and Hemingways Mall.

The whole bottom level of the Vincent Park centre was under water yesterday. Pick n Pay, Mr Price, Clicks, Health Wise and Wimpy were among the stores affected.

Beacon Bay, Gonubie and Nahoon suffered power outages.

At the Lennox Road and Milner Street intersection in East London’s North End, large parts of the road had been torn up and deep gashes made it almost impassable.

In the same area, a funeral parlour had major flood damage. Provincial disaster management chief Captain John Fobian said a few houses in Cambridge, Dorchester Heights and Scenery Park had been flooded. People had also been rescued out of cars stranded on flooded roads.

Water officials said the good falls in the Bay’s catchment areas had seen strong inflows into the only two supply dams which have yet to overflow in the wake of recent good rains – the Impofu and Churchill dams, on the Kromme River.

The dams were 61% and 87% full respectively yesterday morning. The city’s five supply dams were last all full in June 2007.

Department of Water Affairs regional operations manager Koos Viljoen said water inflow at the two dams was strong.

“Our hydro team has forecast that if the current flow rate into Impofu keeps on, it will spill [overflow] within the next five to six days.

“If the Churchill starts spilling [predicted to happen within the next day or two], then the Impofu will fill sooner [as the Churchill is upstream],” Viljoen said.

But the easing of restrictions for the city was still about a month away, Baron said.

The municipality would only be in a position to ease water restrictions once the department had lifted its restrictions on the municipality’s use of the supply dams, he said.

According to the SA Weather Service, light rain is expected to start clearing from midday today, with maximum temperatures of 14°C for Port Elizabeth and East London, and 12°C for Grahamstown. Additional reporting by Tamara Booi, Mkhululi Ndamase, Zwanga Mukhuthu, Poliswa Plaatjie, Vuyo Zondeki and Bongo Jacob.

- The Herald