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South Africa: at least 306 dead in the worst known floods in the country

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According to a latest report Wednesday from local authorities, some 306 people died in the worst floods ever in South Africa caused by heavy rains in recent days on the east coast. Record rainfall has reached a level not seen for more than 60 years since last weekend.

Some 306 people have died in South Africa’s worst ever flooding caused by heavy rains in recent days on the east coast, according to a latest report on Wednesday from local authorities who are dealing with an influx of bodies in morgues. The record rainfall, which since last weekend has reached a level not seen for more than 60 years, has left behind devastated landscapes.

Collapsed bridges, submerged roads, in some places around the port city of Durban, the first city of Kwazulu-Natal (KZN, east) and epicenter of the disaster, landslides have left giant breaches in the earth as if split by the torrents of water.

South African president promises government aid to victims

“Our morgues are under some pressure, but we are coping. Last night, late at night, we received some 306 bodies in two separate morgues” in the conurbation, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said in a television interview, representative of the health department in the province. Dozens of people are missing, rescuers described “a nightmare”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited bereaved families in the morning. In Clermont, a poor suburb of Durban, he promised government aid to a father who lost his four children, buried in the collapse of a section of their house. With joined hands, the man told the head of state about the water rising in the middle of the night, the electricity cut off, his children asleep in another room and whom he failed to save.

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The rains are expected to dissipate in the evening

“We see similar tragedies hitting Mozambique, Zimbabwe, but today we are the ones who are affected,” said Cyril Ramaphosa. Local authorities are calling for a state of natural disaster to be declared. The rains are expected to slowly dissipate in the evening, according to meteorologists. But already the region open to the Indian Ocean, which saw massive destruction during an unprecedented wave of riots and looting in July, seemed to be experiencing a respite.

In a humid heat, some clear around collapsed buildings. On roads strewn with debris, others scatter sand to fill gaping holes, noted an AFP journalist. Some schools have opened their doors but the benches have mostly remained depopulated. At Inanda Township Primary School, only two out of 48 students showed up.

Thousands of homes destroyed, 140 schools affected

“In 48 hours, more than 450 mm of water fell in some areas,” Dipuo Tawana, forecaster at the national meteorological institute, told AFP. Specialists compared the level of precipitation to that “normally associated with cyclones”. The army was mobilized to provide air support during the evacuations. Thousands of homes were destroyed, at least 140 schools were affected, according to local authorities.

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For several days, the main roads have been submerged in a brownish molasses, on which the signs and traffic lights float. Mountains of branches, bottles and rubbish were washed onto Durban’s beaches, which are usually popular with tourists and families. Activity at the port was suspended, containers were washed away. Looting has been reported.

“Climate change is getting worse”, warns a university professor

The heavy rains also led to power cuts and disrupted water supplies. Rail links have been suspended and residents urged to avoid travel.

“We know that it is climate change that is getting worse, we have gone from extreme storms in 2017, to supposed record floods in 2019 but clearly exceeded today in 2022”, warned Mary Galvin, professor of Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg. In 2019, floods in the region and the neighboring province of Eastern Cape had already claimed 70 lives and devastated several coastal villages in mudslides.

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