Morning Chronicle - Damaged roads and bridges hamper aid for S. Africa flood victims

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Damaged roads and bridges hamper aid for S. Africa flood victims
Damaged roads and bridges hamper aid for S. Africa flood victims / Photo: Marco LONGARI - AFP

Damaged roads and bridges hamper aid for S. Africa flood victims

Victims of South Africa's deadliest storm on record scrambled to get help on Thursday as relief teams struggled to cross bridges and roads wrecked by floods and landslip.

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At least 306 people died when the heaviest rainfall in six decades swept away homes and destroyed infrastructure in the city of Durban and KwaZulu-Natal province.

The government has declared the region a state of disaster to unlock relief funds.

But with key roads and bridges washed away, relief workers battled to reach the hardest-hit areas, which have been without water or electricity for up to four days.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a visit to the region on Wednesday, described the floods as a "calamity... a catastrophe of enormous proportions."

Thousands of people have been made homeless and around 250 schools damaged.

Authorities said they had established 17 shelters to accommodate over 2,100 displaced people.

Sporadic protests erupted in some areas over slow restoration of services and lack of relief.

Durban city government appealed for patience.

"We understand the frustration and anxiety of our residents," it said in a statement.

"We are working as quickly as we can. Our teams are hard at work to resume services. However, it may take a while to fully restore all services because of the extent of the damage to access roads."

The government of KwaZulu-Natal has also put out a public call for aid, urging people to donate non-perishable food, bottled water, clothes and blankets.

- Appeal for shelter -

But many survivors said they had been left to fend for themselves.

In Amaoti, a township north of Durban, residents balanced precariously on the embarkment of a collapsed road, trying to fetch clean water from a broken pipe underneath.

"We don't have water, there is no electricity... people from (everywhere) are coming to get water," Thabani Mgoni, 38, told AFP in the midst of the crowd.

Philisiwe Mfeka, a 78-year-old grandmother, said her water supply stopped on Tuesday.

Even water from the fractured pipe was being rationed to one bucket per person, with children, some as young as 10, coming to fetch one bucket each.

Volunteers said they were desperate to find food, clothes and other essentials.

In a pitch-dark hall in Durban's Glebelands dingy apartment block, volunteers used the torches from their cellphones to register scores of displaced people overnight.

"We are just helping the people because we care," said Mabheki Sokhela, 51, who helped organise temporary shelter at a community hall.

He urged fellow residents to provide a roof for the victims. "There is not enough space," he said.

Many victims slept on chairs or on cardboard on the floor.

A mortuary worker at the Durban township of Phoenix said more than 100 corpses had been brought in.

"Last night there was queue of people bringing bodies. It's too much," the worker said, asking not to be named as he did not have permission to speak to the media.

Burials have been banned until the wet ground stabilises.

- Brutal storm -

The storm was so severe that crocodile breeding ponds overflowed as perimeter fences fell down, allowing 14 reptiles to escape. They were recaptured a day later.

Weather experts say apocalyptic levels of rain were dumped over several days.

Some areas received more than 450 millimetres (18 inches) in 48 hours, amounting to nearly half of Durban's annual rainfall of 1,009 mm, the national weather service said.

The storm caught South African authorities unprepared.

The South African Weather Service has issued an Easter weekend warning of thunderstorms and localised flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

The country is still struggling to recover from the two-year-old Covid pandemic and deadly riots last year that killed more than 350 people.