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Minister to Visit Tornado-Hit Othongathi Amid Calls for Disaster Declaration

Tornado-Hit Othongathi

Cooperative Governance Minister Thembi Nkadimeng will visit the tornado-stricken town of Othongathi, north of Durban, on Wednesday. The community is still grappling with the devastating effects of the recent natural disaster, which has led to the area being classified as a disaster zone.

This latest calamity has reignited calls to declare KwaZulu-Natal a disaster area, a request echoed two years after the province experienced two major flooding events. Last week, a tornado hit Durban’s northern coastal towns, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 11 lives.

Scientists warn that vulnerable communities in floodplains, particularly in and around coastal cities like Durban, will continue to suffer the impacts of climate change unless relocated.

KwaZulu-Natal has faced numerous extreme weather events in recent years, from brutal storms to the recent tornado, endangering both lives and livelihoods.

Mudslides in 2022

In April and May 2022, KwaZulu-Natal endured severe climatic events, including mudslides and torrential downpours, which damaged homes, businesses, roads, and critical infrastructure. Over 400 people lost their lives during the April 2022 floods, with some buried beneath their homes and others swept away by rivers. In response, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a provincial state of disaster.

Just a month later, a second wave of flooding hit, further damaging roads, bridges, telecommunication networks, and water and sewage infrastructure. Two years later, survivors have rebuilt their informal homes in the same vulnerable floodplains.

Nonsindiso Yala, a resident of Quarry Heights in Durban since 2016, explained the difficult choice of staying in a dangerous area due to job proximity: “I was affected by the last floods. Our houses were flooded, but I decided to come back here because I want to be closer to my workplace. I am able to survive here; the clinic and the mall are within walking distance.”

Another resident expressed frustration with the recurring floods: “Each time there are floods, we know that our houses will be flooded. We then have to clean up and replace damaged items. We want the municipality to provide safe land and build houses for us. We are still traumatized by the 2022 floods that claimed lives and left bodies unfound.”

Mike Somthala, who has lived in the area for 19 years, echoed the need for safer living conditions: “We stay here because it is closer to the city, and we can walk to Pinetown to look for jobs. We cannot afford transport costs. During floods, we run to higher ground. Our belongings are washed away; we just grab documents and seek shelter. I am calling on the government to provide a safe place or land where we can build our own houses.”

2023 Floods

On Christmas Eve last year, Ladysmith experienced two devastating floods within two weeks, resulting in 25 deaths and widespread destruction of businesses and infrastructure. The town’s location in the Uthukela catchment area at the foothills of the Drakensberg is directly linked to its flooding issues.

Professor Hope Magidimisha-Chipungu, an expert in town and regional planning at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, emphasized the need for solutions: “Telling people not to rebuild in low-lying areas is useless without providing alternatives and support. Development control and land use management must guide where people can safely build.”

Magidimisha-Chipungu advocates for climate-resilient cities: “We need permeable surfaces to manage water flow and reduce flood risks. The goal is to create environments that naturally handle water movement.”

In April, businesses and residents in Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast endured two nights of flash floods, resulting in five deaths. Last week, at least 11 people were killed after a tornado swept through several areas of the province, with Othongathi particularly hard-hit.

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