Morning Chronicle - Flood-struck S.Africans seek Easter Sunday divine 'refuge'

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Flood-struck S.Africans seek Easter Sunday divine 'refuge'
Flood-struck S.Africans seek Easter Sunday divine 'refuge' / Photo: RAJESH JANTILAL - AFP

Flood-struck S.Africans seek Easter Sunday divine 'refuge'

As temperatures climbed and an overcast sky hung over a storm-ravaged township in eastern South Africa, survivors of the deadly floods sought divine solace observing Easter Sunday.

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Inanda, a rural township 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the city of Durban's central business district, was one of the areas devastated by heavy flooding that has killed 443 people and left more than 40,000 homeless.

On Sunday, around 200 Christian worshippers gathered at the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa for an Easter service.

The large white concrete church with a tiled roof ceiling is one of a few solid structures left standing by the raging floods that engulfed the city last week.

The warmer temperatures throughout the day, ranging between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius (59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit), were much more reflective of Durban's marketing slogan as "the warmest city to be".

But that warmth was not enough to soothe the grieving and suffering survivors.

Thulisile Mkhabela said she was at church because she still had "hope" that her situation would change.

"I felt I should come here to take refuge in the lord... for comfort and to get that hope that we will go through this," said Mkhabela, who returned home from her call centre job on Monday to find floodwater decimating the house she was renovating.

The house started collapsing from the living room.

"We were still awake so we took out whatever we could and took the children to the other house. (As) soon as we took them out then the bedroom started collapsing," she said.

They moved to their outbuilding, which had also been damaged but held together for the rest of the night.

The outbuilding has since collapsed and they are now "squatting" in her brother's two-bedroom house.

- Hope and new beginnings -

"Now there is 12 of us in a two-bedroom house. My brother, his wife and their children in the one room and the rest of us in the other room," said Mkhabela, wearing an orange jacket and a black dress.

Another congregant, Nokuthula Chili, had to evacuate her family from her home when floodwaters reached shoulder height on Monday night.

Floors and walls were cracked and all the furniture and electrical appliances were damaged.

"What hurts the most is that I went through a lot of difficulties to build that house and seeing it collapse so easily, right in front of my eyes broke me.

"I don't know if I will have the means to rebuild," she said, tears running down her cheeks.

Thankfully, Chili, her husband, four children and two grandchildren who were in the house escaped unhurt.

Easter Sunday marks the day Christians symbolically celebrate triumph over death.

For this small Christian community in Inanda, it marked a start of new beginning and a temporary distraction from the ruins around them.

Reverend Bhekubuhle Dlamini encouraged the congregants -- most of them neatly dressed in white or cream tops and black skirts -- to keep their faith in the face of the disaster.

The floods struck "so close to the Easter weekend -- the weekend that begins with hopelessness and darkness before He (Jesus) rises on Sunday, which is today", he said in his sermon.

"That gives us hope that after all the challenges we went through we will be able to rise up again even though our houses fell down, our infrastructure in ruins."

As worshippers prayed some got emotional, raising their hands as tears rolled down, while others fell to the ground.

Chili's faith remained unshaken.

"I don't think there would be a better time for (the disaster) to happen than so close to the resurrection Sunday, a time meant for new beginnings," she said.