The death toll from South Africa’s Durban floods rises to 341 | News about the climate crisis

The death toll from South Africa’s “unprecedented” floods rose to 341 on Thursday as helicopters flew over the south-eastern city of Durban in an increasingly desperate search for survivors.

With roads and bridges washed away by rain this week, rescuers struggled to deliver supplies across the city, with some residents having been without power or water since Monday.

“The level of destruction of human life, infrastructure and service networks in the province is unprecedented,” said Sihle Zikalala, Prime Minister of KwaZulu-Natal.

“A total of 40,723 people have been affected. Unfortunately, 341 fatalities have been recorded,” he told a news conference.

At a small airport north of Durban, helicopters carried rescuers in and out. The air support was not only withdrawn from the military and police, but also a fleet of volunteers, private contractors and schools.

But one day after the rains finally subsided, fewer survivors were found, said Travis Trower, director of the voluntary organization Rescue South Africa. From 85 calls on Thursday, he said his team had only found corpses.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’re doing the best we can for as many people as we can,” he said.

The government has not given any indication of how many people are missing. Zikalala predicted that the bill for damages would run into billions of rands.

Request shelter

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the region a state of emergency for the release of emergency aid. Authorities said they established 17 shelters to accommodate more than 2,100 displaced people.

Occasional protests erupted in some areas against the slow recovery of services and lack of relief. Durban City Council appealed for patience.

“We understand the frustration and anxiety of our residents,” it said in a statement. “We are working as fast as we can. Our teams are working hard to resume services. However, it may take a while to fully recover all services due to the extent of the damage to the access roads.”

The government of KwaZulu-Natal province has also issued a public call for help, urging people to donate non-perishable food, bottled water, clothes and blankets.

But many survivors said they were left to fend for themselves.

In Amaoti, a township north of Durban, residents were uncertainly balancing on the dam of a collapsed road, trying to fetch clean water from a broken pipe below.

“We have no water, there is no electricity… People from [everywhere] come to fetch water, ”said Thabani Mgoni, 38.

Philisiwe Mfeka, a 78-year-old grandmother, said her water supply stopped on Tuesday.

Even water from the broken pipe was rationed to one bucket per. person with children, some as young as 10 years old, who came to pick it up.

By a river bank, families washed the clothes they could get their hands on in muddy water in the middle of severed pipes sticking out of the ground.

Weather experts say some areas gained more than 45 cm (18 inches) in 48 hours, which is equivalent to nearly half of Durban’s annual rainfall of 101 cm (40 inches).

The South African Weather Service issued an Easter weekend warning of thunderstorms and local floods in KwaZulu-Natal and the nearby Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

The country is still struggling to recover from the two-year-old COVID pandemic and deadly riots last year that killed more than 350 people.

‘A disaster’

The southeast coast of Africa is at the forefront of seaborne weather systems that scientists believe are deteriorating due to global warming. They expect the situation to get much worse in the coming decades.

Ramaphosa described the disaster as “a disaster of enormous proportions”, adding that it “was obviously part of climate change”.

“We can no longer postpone what we have to do, the measures we have to take to deal with climate change. Our disaster management capacity must be at a higher level,” Ramaphosa told a crowd in Ntuzuma township in Durban without elaborating.

In 2020, Durban – KwaZulu-Natal’s largest city – released its climate action plan outlining strategies to make its energy greener, reduce the risk of floods, improve waste management and save water with a goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2050.

While climate activists acknowledged that the plan was progressive, they said there was limited evidence that it was being implemented. But measures ranging from better drainage to more careful urban planning will be crucial in limiting losses under extreme weather conditions like this week’s floods, climate experts said.

“This is a learning moment,” said Christopher Trisos, lead author of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on adaptation to climate change and risks, published in late February.

“The IPCC report found that 90 percent of African cities do not yet have significant climate adaptation plans, which is extremely worrying. But there are still opportunities for adaptation,” Trisos said.

Trisos said informal settlements provided good opportunities for adaptation to growing flood risk.

“There is a possibility as lots of informal settlements are not yet covered in asphalt so we can still create green infrastructure,” from water-absorbing city parks to better draining rivers, he said.

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