East Cape on high alert for bad weather

Gareth Wilson and Bianca Nkomo

EMERGENCY officials in the Eastern Cape are on high alert with heavy rain, snow and rough seas expected to hit the province from tomorrow.

[Readers can send their pictures of severe weather or snow to picturespe@avusa.co.za ]

With warnings of possible flash floods and snow, emergency officials have established a Joint Operations Centre to coordinate all responses to emergency situations.

The cold front, moving in from the west, is expected to hit Nelson Mandela Bay tomorrow afternoon, with highs of 11°C and rainfall of up to 150mm predicted in Port Elizabeth over the weekend.

Heavy snowfalls are expected in the Graaff-Reinet and Winterberg areas. The mercury is set to peak at 8°C in those areas.

Yesterday, bad weather and 3m-high swells at the treacherous Knysna Heads prevented an SA Navy ship, the SAS Umzimkulu, from entering through the narrow channel.

It was meant to visit the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival under way in the Garden Route town. If it fails to enter, this will be the first time in the festival’s 29-year history a navy ship did not dock in Knysna.

The weather is also expected to put a damper on other outdoor events this weekend – including the Biltong Festival in Somerset East, the VW Algoa Rally and Craven Week in Port Elizabeth, and the Billabong Pro surfing competition in Jeffreys Bay.

SA Weather Service forecaster Tennielle Jacobs said the heaviest rainfall – along the south coast region, as well as Port Elizabeth – would occur between tomorrow afternoon and Saturday. It would start clearing up on Sunday.

“More than 50mm of rain is expected in the 24 hours from Friday morning into Saturday morning, reaching in excess of 100mm in places by Saturday evening,” Jacobs said.

“The ground is already saturated due to rainfall in the last month or so and therefore the rain this weekend won’t be easily absorbed, leading to run-off and localised flooding.”

Jacobs dismissed an e-mail circulating yesterday that likened this weekend’s conditions to those experienced during the destructive 1968 floods, in which large parts of the city – including the entire Baakens Valley – were flooded.

“In the 1968 floods, approximately 428mm of rain fell in four hours. This system is not likely to bring as much rain.”

A Nelson Mandela Bay disaster management official, based at the emergency control centre, said all emergency personnel had been placed on high alert. “Our control room will constantly be monitoring the flood line in various areas around Nelson Mandela Bay via remote cameras.

“If we feel that an area is in danger of flooding, the necessary emergency services will be activated to respond.”

Police disaster management spokesman Captain John Fobian said all policing units – including search and rescue, the air wing and divers – had been placed on standby.

Provincial transport spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said traffic officials across the Eastern Cape had also been alerted.

“We are monitoring the passes and will close the roads if need be,” he said.

Eastern Cape Coastal Rescue coordinator John Fletcher said they were on standby to assist with evictions of low-lying areas if needed.

“We are on high alert and have our members ready should any assistance be required,” Fletcher said.

NSRI Port Elizabeth station commander Ian Gray said the institute was also ready to help. “We have all our people and equipment ready to go.”

Nelson Mandela Municipality spokesman Kupido Baron said disaster management plans were in place to address any flooding situations.

“We will be on high alert. We have traffic officers and all the departments on board to assist if they are needed.”

Additional reporting by Janine Oelofse

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