Gareth Wilson and Guy Rogers
GALE-FORCE winds of up to 80km/h wreaked havoc around Nelson Mandela Bay yesterday, leaving at least one person dead and many evacuating their homes, fearing raging bush fires would burn houses and shacks to the ground.
While emergency service workers described the winds as “very hectic”, saying their phones had been ringing off the hook since the morning, teams of firefighters battled runaway fires across the Bay and beaches were closed because of dangerous seas.
In a tragic freak accident, municipal assistant horticulturist Reggie Jenniker, 60, was killed when the powerful winds caused a tree to fall on top of his vehicle after he parked alongside Buffelsfontein Road in Walmer after midday. Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said Jenniker had been sitting in his vehicle when the tree was blown over and crushed him.
“Workers spent more than two hours cutting the tree into pieces in an attempt to retrieve the body.”
Gardmed Ambulance medic Dirk Kunz said that when they arrived, Jenniker had already died.
Chris Hay, assistant director of parks, said he had seen the brake lights on the vehicle were on and his colleague had still had both hands on the steering wheel.
He was on his way to inspect the work of grass-cutting contractors near King Edward Park.
Fire department officials spent most of yesterday afternoon extinguishing eight bush fires across the Bay.
Authorities said the fires in both the Sardinia Bay and Willow Road areas were the largest and most serious. The Sardinia Bay fire started on Sunday afternoon and was deemed to be under control until yesterday afternoon, when strong winds caused it to flare up again. By late morning, five fire trucks were trying to extinguish it.
At 2pm the Sardinia Bay road was closed as the fire had jumped the road.
“The wind seems to be pushing it towards the houses,” one firefighter said. “We are constantly assessing the fire and have people driving between the houses and plots to assess if we should sound the evacuation alarm.”
In Malabar Extension 6, people packed up their goods as fires burnt dangerously close to their shacks.
By 5pm the Sardinia Bay fire was under control.
At about 3pm, another fire started in the dense bush alongside Willow Road. The Willow Academy School in Cedar Road, Fairview, was evacuated as a precaution. At 5pm the roads were still closed due to thick smoke.
Fires were also reported in Arcadia, Korsten, Greenbushes, Kleinskool and New Brighton.
Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said 42 firefighters and 19 vehicles had been deployed.
In another incident, a branch smashed through the windscreen of a woman’s car near the police station in Walmer.
In Vitry Avenue, Lorraine, a falling tree knocked over a home’s boundary wall.
Beach manager Fernando Cane said all beaches had been closed for recreational activity because of the strong winds.
“It’s blowing south-west about 80km/h and anything over 30km/h is a risk. The surf is also very choppy.”
Cane said, however, that lifeguards had remained on duty.
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