- Homes and businesses flooded
- Midnight wake-up for campers
- Mall in darkness
- Clinic mopping-up
- Roof ripped off Nemato house
- Shacks destroyed
- Three boats sink on the Marina
Ndlambe residents and business owners are counting the cost after 120mm of rain, severe lightning and close to gale-force winds caused widespread damage on Sunday night, 7 August. A powerful electrical storm accompanied by winds of up to 53km/h swept through the region, reaching its peak between 2am and 3am on Monday morning. A team from Ndlambe is busy assessing damage across the municipality where there has been extensive damage, particularly in informal settlements.
There were chaotic scenes in Port Alfred on Monday morning 8 August as residents and businesses battled floodwaters that were waist-high in places. Electricity outages across Ndlambe, lasting more than 12 hours in places, delayed mopping up and a return to normal operations.
Owner of Medolino Caravan Park Susan Coetzee described the drama at 1am on Monday, when they realised the small pond at the bottom of the resort was fast filling up and starting to overflow on to the adjacent camp ground.
“There was a family of nine adults and eight kids in those tents,” she said, pointing to a cluster of tents surrounded by abandoned camp chairs, hammocks, braai stands and camp kitchen equipment, standing in ankle-deep water.
“We woke them up to move them to other accommodation further up,” she said. “Imagine – they come here every year: two branches of a family, one from East London, one from PE – to meet up here during the holidays.”
The family had opted to book into the nearby Royal St Andrew’s Hotel for the night, however.
The pond at the end of the resort is a natural dam that is usually kept in check by four pumps that remove excess water and pump it into the adjacent dunes. From there, it seeps through to the ocean. But with more than 100mm falling in a short space of time, these weren’t up to the task.
Mall floors flooded
By 7am on Monday, Rosehill Mall on the R72 west of Port Alfred had measured 120mm. Winds of up to 53km/h, just short of gale force, blew sheets of water sideways into the building. Water streamed along the passageways and under shop doorways, flooding many of them. By midday, several of them were still in darkness, although generators kept major outlets such as Spur and the SPAR operational. Centre manager Gert Jordaan said, “The mall’s position, high on a hill, protected it from the worst flooding; but it is also exposed to high winds and the worst of the storm.”
Down the hill in the CBD it was a different story.
The Port Alfred Ratepayers and Residents Association’s Lindsay Luppnow said all businesses in Van Der Riet Street, closest to the Kowie River, had been affected.
Kevin Gidwa was knee-deep in water in front of the family business, Knob’s Funeral Parlour, in Campbell Street, using a generator to pump water out of the lake that the front lawn had turned into. Many other businesses in the area were in a similar predicament.
“Luckily for me, the water didn’t come inside the funeral home,” Gidwa said.
Difford Keeton, owner of Keeton Funeral Services in Bank Street on the opposite side of the river, was faced with catastrophe when he got there around first light.
“The water was up to here (he pointed the debris-marked floodline, nearly a metre up from the pavement) and there were coffins floating through the rooms.”
These were empty caskets, on display in the funeral home, many still in their clear plastic wrapping. There had been no bereavements in the past few days and with the power out since 3am, the mortuary refrigerator was fortunately empty.
“I had to clear these stormwater drains myself so that the water would have somewhere to flow to,” he said. He was also draining the premises with a pump and generator.
Friend and fellow businessman Des Bezuidenhout brought his truck and helped the family remove the coffins to a storage area, where the insurance company’s assessor would inspect them.
Clinic mopping up
Across the road, Chris Gidana’s firearms and ammunition shop was also under a metre of water. “My strongroom is completely underwater,” he said. “It’s a disaster.”
Unfortunately he was not insured, he said.
A honeysucker arrived to remove the water still building up at Gidana’s premises while municipal workers cleared vegetation and other obstacles from a large stormwater drain nearby.
Next door to Keeton’s, Wharf Street Tab was also flooded. Fortunately most of their flooring is tiled and their slot machines are in a raised area, so weren’t damaged.
Floodwater marks halfway up the wheels of the mobile clinic parked outside the Port Alfred Clinic were evidence of earlier floods. When TOTT arrived, staff were still mopping up buckets of water that poured into consulting rooms and offices through the grund-level air vents in the walls of the old building. Staff were forced to ask patients on non-essential visits to return on another day. Slippery floors and the danger of operating electronic equipment in a wet environment meant it was too risky to continue full operations.
Three boats sink
Three boats on the Marina sank after their mooring covers were ripped off during the 3am storm by 53km/h winds.
Harbour Master Tim Harris said while all boats in mooring were bailed out daily by his team, as a matter of course, the Sunday night/ Monday morning storm had surprised them in its severity.
“Boats will sink when they have no covers, or when the covers are swept off,” he said.
Harris was on Monday leading a team to assess and repair damage to jetties.
“It’s normal to have some damage from a storm,” Harris said. “Apart from those three boats, it has not been serious. We will have everything back to normal within two weeks.”
The hut used by the rowing club had been blown over, but had since been restored to its position, Harris said.
The storm and floods took their toll on many residents.
“We are pumping water out of our house right now,” said a West Beach Drive resident.
Roof ripped off
In Nemato, the Kiti family thought robbers were breaking into their house when around 3am, amid the lightning, thunder and lashing rain, a terrible breaking, crashing noise had them jump out of their beds and run terrified out of the house to seek safety with friends and relatives in the area.
The near-gale-force wind had ripped the corrugated iron roof off their house, leaving half of the home completely exposed to the elements and their furniture and appliances, badly damaged by the water that then filled the Laduma Street house.
Around the corner in Toletyuka Street, Nomsebenzi Jezi also woke to an unfamiliar sound around 2.30am and stepped into a river of water sweeping through her home.
“I’ve been up since 3am trying to mop up this mess,” an exhausted Jezi told Talk of the Town.
Gravel roads in the area had turned into torrents in the night, and by the morning had turned into hard to navigate dongas. A challenging walk around the corner, Nomsebenzi’s sister Nontsikilelo Jezi was also woken up by water “everywhere”.
She did her best to deal with the flood before leaving for her 6am start at work. Fortunately her supervisor sent her home early and she dug a trench around her house to channel the water away.
Blocked stormwater drains
The amounts of rain measured in various parts of Port Alfred varied, but all were over 100mm, the point at which rain gauges overflowed, and so the amount could have been significantly more. In Burke Street, West Bank, Helen Averbuch measured a total of 120mm in three successive measurements but “the 100 overflowed so it’s more than that in 24 hours”.
Bennie van Niekerk measured 158mm in West Bank. At Rosehill Mall, Manager Gert Jordaan measured 120mm at 7am on Monday.
Several CBD businesses said the reason the flooding was so bad was that the municipality had failed to keep the stormwater drains clear and there was nowhere for the water to go.
In October 2012 an intense cut-off low weather system caused eight deaths and around R500 million in damage when up to 700mm of rain fell over a nine-day period. Stenden University Lecturer in the School of Disaster Management Desmond Pyle wrote in the JAMBA Journal of Disaster Risk Studies that “The poorly maintained and ageing infrastructure and storm water systems could not withstand the floodwaters, and as a result, damage was worse than it should have been.”
Ward 6 councillor Edward Walker said he would be submitting a motion to Council, requesting it form part of the next full sitting of Council, to have the Municipality draw up a roster for drains to be checked regularly by Municipal staff.
Walker said the bulk of the damage in his ward was in the informal settlement of New Rest. Responding to questions on Monday, he said, “I spent today examining flooded shacks in New Rest. Most are not built to withstand a storm as we experienced last night. Badly built and plenty of spaces for wind and water to come in from the rooves. Others are built on slopes that are in the path of running storm water. And the worst damaged are all mud homes where the walls received unrelenting spraying of water and simply collapsed. Not built to withstand the assault that was hurled upon them last night.”
Part of New Rest falls under Ward 7 and TOTT has asked Ward 7 councillor Sibusiso Zweni to comment on the situation there. He referred the query to Ndlambe Mayor Khululwa Ncamiso, who in turn referred TOTT to the municipal spokesperson because the Mayor was at that time busy providing assistance to those affected by the floods.
Spokesperson Cecil Mbolekwa said, “Informal settlements across Ndlambe were affected by the floods; not only New Rest in Port Alfred. As we speak, there is a team on the ground gathering data about houses damaged – particularly in informal settlements – at Alexandria, Kenton and Bushmans as well as Port Alfred and in the rural areas around Bathurst.
“Once they have facts and figures about how many people are affected and what they require, Ndlambe Municipality will roll out that assistance.”
Of criticism that stormwater drains were not regularly cleaned, Mbolekwa said: “Every foreman under the Infrastructure Directorate has the responsibility to produce a weekly programme that schedules in pothole repairs, stormwater drains and other Infrastructure Department tasks.
“Sunday night’s storm and floods were an unusual occurrence and already there are teams at work in the CBD and other areas clearing drains that were blocked by the storm.”
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Eskom says it has mobilised every available resource to restore widespread damage to the power utility’s infrastructure after a powerful storm swept through parts of the Eastern Cape, including Ndlambe, in the early hours of Monday 8 August.