By Nivashni Nair
ICY weather caused havoc across the country yesterday as highways were blocked, rail services suspended, two train drivers rescued by helicopter and a ship ran aground in heavy seas.
Commerce and industry suffered when long-distance trains running between Johannesburg and Durban and between Johannesburg and East London were cancelled due to the bad weather.
Schools and businesses in many areas were forced to close after heavy snowfalls overnight, while the thick blanket of snow left at least 3000 truck drivers and motorists caught in a 10km traffic jam on the N3 highway between Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal.
Long-distance train services were cancelled, with two train drivers being rescued by air force helicopters after their trains got stuck between Newcastle and Volksrust.
A tanker ran aground after breaking its anchor and drifting towards Salt Rock on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast on Monday night.
NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon said 15 crew of the Phoenix were airlifted to safety while salvage tug Smit Amandla continued efforts to salvage the vessel.
While transport services were hard hit, hundreds of families in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape built snowmen and played in the snow. But those living in informal settlements and rural areas wished away the icy weather.
Several parts of the Eastern Cape were under snow. Pictures of snowmen and snow-covered mountains appeared on numerous social networking and news websites.
But Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane warned the conditions made travel dangerous.
“It is snowing heavily and is very dangerous between Ugie and Elliot. Some motorists are already stuck [in the snow],” he said.
“People are stuck in their vehicles on the road from Elliot to Indwe, Engcobo to Cala, [and in] Satansnek.
“I appeal to motorists to be extra vigilant as the roads are wet, with the snow closing some of the lanes and trees falling on roads, leaving only one lane for travelling.”
However, a number of roads that were closed due to the snow had reopened later yesterday afternoon, Qoboshiyane said.
Municipalities and government departments helped to clear roads and rescue those trapped in the snow. The defence force and provincial and national disaster management centres offered aerial support.
At least 350 people who were stuck in the snow were rescued by the disaster management teams. The Alfred Nzo District Municipality took food and blankets to children in buses trapped in snow.
Qoboshiyane said motorists should not try to use roads that were closed, but should find other routes or postpone their travels.
One of the Eastern Cape’s most notorious criminals, Sakhumzi Mvoko, could not appear in court yesterday as he could not be moved from the Kokstad Maximum Security Prison due to the snow.
The SA Weather Service reported heavy snowfalls over Lesotho and the eastern high ground of the Free State, as well as on the KwaZulu-Natal western high ground, with heavy rain and gale-force winds along the coast, and snow on the Mpumalanga highveld.
Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said the N3 would remain closed today and that emergency rescue teams assisted by military vehicles were assisting stranded motorists.
Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said a national joint operations committee had been activated to deal with any eventuality on the country’s roads due to the heavy snowfalls and rain.
He urged road users, particularly those travelling between Durban and Johannesburg, to delay their trips until the weather improved.
Truck driver Mannie Ragubeer, caught in the backlog of trucks stuck in snow, said: “The snow is a beautiful sight but we are suffering in the cold. I just want to go home and get into bed.”
Forecaster Ezekiel Sebego said while the sun might shine briefly today, another week of cold weather was expected.
Additional reporting by Sapa, Daily Dispatch