DURBAN, South Africa — Afflicted South Africans are still searching for family members swept away by floods last week in which 435 people died and more than 40,000 were left homeless in the city. coast of Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal.
The South African army has deployed 10,000 soldiers to help find the missing, rebuild roads, bridges and public services, and distribute emergency aid to families rendered destitute by the deluge. The government has allocated $67 million in humanitarian assistance to affected families.
The families doggedly persist in their search for the bodies of their loved ones.
Joseph Nkosi, 56, from Inanda township, spends his days with neighbors searching a debris-laden stream for the body of his 15-year-old daughter, Ntombenhle, last seen trying to cross a low deck when the waters carried her away.
“I am heartbroken,” Nkosi told The Associated Press. “What I’m hoping for now is just to get her body back. I’ve already accepted that she’s no more. All I care about is her school tie that we found in that stream.
In a nearby neighborhood, Apollo Mdladla, 47, said he and his young daughter were struggling to cope with the deaths of 10 members of a nearby family. A mother, her children and her grandchildren all died when the floods washed away their home.
“We still have trauma. These children were playing with my own child. Now she asks: ‘Where is Manelisa? Where is Lulu? I had to be honest and tell her they are dead because she can see they are no longer there,” Mdladla said as rescue teams searched for bodies in the pile of wreckage in her garden.
Five bodies of the family have been found, but the other five are still missing, he said.
The highest number of deaths and destroyed homes have occurred in poor low-lying areas of Durban, where families have built homes on open and dangerous land. But middle-class and affluent neighborhoods were also affected when mudslides crushed houses built on the hillside.
Schools, churches and community halls have become shelters for thousands of displaced families and most of these centers lack electricity or drinking water.
“The city remains in crisis 10 days after the storm, and it is now primarily a water supply and sanitation crisis – for hospitals, clinics and communities. Failure to achieve this could lead to a worsening of the health crisis, characterized by water-borne diseases,” said Mani Thandrayen, head of the medical team at Doctors Without Borders in Durban. The organization is supporting four shelters with food, water, kitchenware, blankets, mattresses and other basic items, he said.
Even many houses still standing must be evacuated as they are now unstable and could soon collapse, said South African National Defense Force spokesman Brigadier General Andries Mokoena Mahapa.
“What we said from day one is that these people need to be evacuated. We have to house them in temporary shelter while we try to find alternative accommodation,” he said. “We cannot fix them because at any moment these houses will fall,” Mahapa said.
Flood damage to roads and bridges is estimated at $373 million, schools at $26 million and clinics at $12 million, officials said.
Lack of maintenance of Durban’s drainage systems has worsened flooding in Durban, according to Jeff Smithers, director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Water Resources Research Centre. He called for improved early warning systems to respond to such disasters.
“What has exacerbated the situation is the lack of maintenance,” which has allowed drainage systems to become clogged with waste, he said. “But even in the perfect scenario, we would have had flooding.”
Still shaken by the floods, Sandile Cele, 23, inspected the wreckage from her family’s house on a small hill in Inanda. He used to peer through a steel-framed window, but now an entire dining room wall is gone, torn away by the rushing waters.
“My mother was trying to sweep the water that had entered the house, but we quickly heard part of the house collapse and we ran towards our neighbour’s house,” he said.
The family watched helplessly as the floods shattered windows, knocked down walls and ripped roofs off their two homes.
“We have lost so much. We had recently finished building the second house with the money my mother received when my father passed away,” Cele said. “What we are desperately looking for is a home, a real home where we can live and feel safe.”