Heavy Floods and Mudslides Leave at Least 45 Dead in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — Days of heavy rain on South Africa’s east coast have left at least 45 dead as rivers burst their banks and landslides swept through the city of Durban and surrounding areas.

The death toll is expected to rise as members of the South African National Defense Force were called in to assist emergency rescue teams in KwaZulu-Natal province, government officials said on Tuesday. Along the coast, vacation homes and shacks were razed to the ground in a part of the country known as a getaway for its sun, beaches and warm temperatures.

“We are all shocked by the magnitude of this storm,” Mxolisi Kaunda, the mayor of Durban, told a news conference.

Storms have already caused devastation in several countries in the southern African region this year, displacing thousands of people and leaving dozens dead. Some scientists attributed the destruction in part to a storm season intensified by rising global temperatures.

The island nation of Madagascar has been the hardest hit, hit by a cyclone and four tropical storms that left at least 178 dead during February and March.

But the storms, which originated in the southern Indian Ocean, also hit the mainland. Thousands were displaced along the coast of Mozambique, and floods reached as far inland as Malawi and Zimbabwe, landlocked countries. The KwaZulu-Natal province in eastern South Africa also experienced heavy rain and flooding in February.

On Tuesday, a new storm left much of the city of Durban flooded. Emergency services footage showed parts of a national highway resembling a river, with shipping containers dislodged and washed away. In Verulam, a township north of the city, two people were killed when a house collapsed overnight, according to a local emergency services team.

Residents sought refuge on higher ground, climbing to the roofs of houses, office buildings and a Hindu temple, according to rescuers.

In Tongaat, a town 40 minutes north of the city center, a woman driving home with children in the car on Monday night was swept away when a creek grew into a raging river and overflowed, she said. Bilall Jeewa of Gift of the Givers, a charity group. The bodies of the woman and two children were found, but the body of a third child who is presumed dead has not yet been recovered.

The flooding also triggered landslides that destroyed roads and homes in the region. The lower floors of seaside vacation apartments along the north shore were buried by reddish-brown mud, while houses on the hillsides hung precariously after their foundations were washed away, according to a video shown. on national television.

Shanty towns built along rivers were among the most vulnerable, with shack houses washed away by floodwaters or covered in mud and debris.

In a shantytown in Clare Estate, a northern suburb of the city, residents dug through mud, metal and wood to try to rescue a family of five trapped in their shack, but rescuers arrived too late. said Robert McKenzie, a spokesman for the organization. KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services.

Even as the water receded, emergency workers struggled to reach affected areas. In the afternoon, dozens of schoolchildren and their teachers remained trapped in their classrooms, waiting to be rescued, Kwazi Mshengu, head of the provincial education department, told eNCA, a national news outlet. About 100 schools were damaged and 500 schools in the region were closed, he said.

Much of the city was left without electricity and water after power stations and water treatment plants were damaged, said Mr. Kaunda, the mayor of Durban. The city is still reeling from widespread rioting and looting last July, during some of the worst civil unrest to rock South Africa since the end of apartheid.

Rain was expected to continue to pummel the area on Tuesday and again later in the week, according to the South African Weather Service.

The heavy rain stems from a common weather phenomenon in South Africa known as a cutoff low, in which a low-pressure system develops and its flow through the atmosphere is interrupted, resulting in a slow-moving storm. .

“It’s very common at this time of year,” said Kgolofelo Mahlangu, a meteorologist with the weather service, noting that similar heavy rains hit the region at this time in 2017 and 2019.

Some climate scientists attribute the increased intensity of recent storms to environmental changes. A study released this week by World Weather Attribution, an initiative that specializes in identifying the links between climate change and individual weather events, said “climate change is raising risk in places where tropical cyclones are already affecting agriculture.” , infrastructure, livelihoods and life. ”

The study looked at rainfall levels during Cyclone Batsirai and Tropical Storm Ana in January and February. The research, while noting gaps in data from the region, found that human-caused global warming had played a role in intensifying those storms.

John Eligon contributed reporting from Ulundi, South Africa, and Raymond Zhong from New York.

Leave a Comment