Umlazi scholar Bongumusa Mavundla stood in the driving rain, glued to the spot where he last saw a 19- month-old toddler he had tried to save from the surging floodwaters. Tears welled up as he recounted the moment when the toddler was swallowed from the bank by frothing brown water dispatched by the relentless rain that pelted KwaZulu-Natal from yesterday morning.
Moments earlier, Mavundla, on his way home, had rushed into the icy water that had washed over Hambakahle Mkhonto Road in Umlazi to help a group of children, stuck in an informal creche cut off by the rising river, to safety.
“I went inside and I got the baby and I carried her out of the water,” he said. His attention drawn by the desperate cries of the other children, he placed the toddler on an embankment and rushed back to help. “The water just came and took the baby. I was trying to get her to the house. I don’t know what is going to happen now.”
The other six children were pulled to safety by Mavundla and their nanny.
The 19-month-old was one of at least six victims of the storm that battered the coast of KwaZulu-Natal for more than 12 hours yesterday and left a swathe of destruction.
It stalled trains and left motorists stranded along flooded highways. Hundreds of households were without electricity.
The storm, which blew in from the south coast at about 9am and belted the coast up to Mozambique on the north coast, saw gale-force winds of between 70km and 90km an hour and driving rain.
— Jeff Wicks (@wicks_jeff) October 10, 2017
Pictures on social media showed the extent of the destruction, with dozens of cars being washed away, homes being flooded and trees crashing onto cars and roads.
The SA Weather Service said the “supercell thunderstorm” – the most intense form of a storm characterised by a deep rotating updraft associated with tornadoes, large hail, strong winds and flash flooding – moved from Gauteng on Monday to KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape yesterday.
Weather spokesman Hannelee Doubell said they were monitoring the weather pattern and expected it to blow over within 24 hours.
“We will only know [today] how much rain fell,” she said. “Satellite pictures show lightning over the sea and it seems to be moving off the coastline.” In Sarnia, three petrified men clung to each other as they watched the water level rise rapidly up to the windows of the bus they were trapped in and which became submerged on the M7, a municipal highway west of Durban.
— Rob Beezy (@TrafficSA) October 10, 2017
Durban right now😭😭 lapho I strongly need to leave campus pic.twitter.com/iI8UG15ByK
— Nomfundo💫 (@nomfundo_h) October 10, 2017
Rescue Care paramedic Ceron Lennox, assisted by a colleague and an off-duty fireman, had to swim to the bus to get the men out.
“A few people had rescued the other passengers before the water levels rose,” Lennox said. “But the three guys refused to budge. They were too scared [because none of them could swim].
“We used ropes and found a polysterene board which we used to make little surfboards. Myself, another paramedic and an off-duty fireman swam to the bus to get them.”
Other deaths included an eight-year-old girl who was struck by lightning and a 46-year-old man who drowned in a river.
In another incident, search-andrescue emergency workers tried to extricate a driver whose car was submerged in gushing water on Isipingo’s Old Main Road. However, the driver died.
“We have not seen anything like this in the city before,” eThekwini municipality parks head Thembinkosi Ngcobo said.
“There is chaos along the Durban beachfront. Trees have fallen all over the city. The city’s drainage system is not coping.” – Additional reporting Bongani Mthethwa and Taschica Pillay
Isipingo South of Durban currently dangerous conditions. pic.twitter.com/TWMlkPxIot
— Storm Report SA (@StormReportSA1) October 10, 2017