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29 November 2011

UN offers condolences to storm-hit Durban

Durban - The United Nations’ chief climate change official on Monday assured delegates at the COP 17 conference in Durban that the centre in which they were gathered was safe.

UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres offered condolences to the city, which was struck by a violent storm on Sunday night that killed six people.

The high winds and heavy rain wrecked property, destroyed homes across the greater Durban area, and caused damage to the city’s convention centre.

Earlier, KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance department spokesperson Mthatheni Mabaso said six people were killed in Umlazi and Clermont townships, south and west of the city, on Sunday night.

"We have been told they died when their houses collapsed. We have also been told that about 100 homes were flooded and damaged in Isipingo," he said.

Homes were flooded in Durban's affluent areas such as Umhlanga and Newlands.

"This shows that even the posh areas are not spared of the effects of climate change," said Mabaso.

Figueres confirmed the convention centre had been damaged in the storm.

"I’d like to reassure participants that this building is safe," she said.

"There has been some damage to the roof and flooding in the basement - but everything was back in place for the opening ceremony," she said.

She was speaking at a media briefing following the summit’s opening ceremony, which started shortly before 11:00 on Monday.

"What we witnessed last night was unseasonable weather... of the type we are seeing all over the world as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise," Figueres said.

Heavy rains

The Sunday night deaths brought to 11 the number of people killed by floods in KwaZulu-Natal in less than two weeks. Last week, five people died in the province due to heavy rains.

Mabaso said Co-Operative Governance MEC Nomusa Dube was set to visit some of the affected areas on Monday.

"She will be accompanied by her disaster management team. They will assess the damage," he said.

Several people, including a 1-year-old baby, were rescued from their Durban homes early on Monday after flash floods, Netcare 911 spokesperson Chris Botha said.

Families in four homes on Randles Road were stuck in waist-deep water after a heavy downfall.

"At around 01:00, Netcare 911 paramedics, their rescue team as well as police search and rescue were called to the four houses that had flooded to waist deep in the heavy rain.

"Rescue personnel assisted an elderly lady and a baby less than one year to safety. Both were treated for the cold and the elderly patient had to be treated for an asthma attack."

In Pietermaritzburg, several areas were damaged by heavy rains on Sunday night.

Paulpietersburg, Gingindlovu, Nkandla and Eshowe were the most affected during last week's floods. Three people died in Paulpietersburg, and two in the eThekwini municipality.

Up to 20 000 delegates from more than 190 countries are gathered in Durban to thrash out a plan to counter global warming and the catastrophic climate change, including extreme weather, it is causing in many parts of the world.

- SAPA/News24