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South Africa| South Africa

South Africa| South Africa

Hundreds of shipping containers washed away by flood waters near Durban

Survivors of South Africa’s devastating floods have described “sheet upon sheet of relentless rain” that washed away entire houses, bridges and roads, killing about 450 people and making thousands homeless.

The storm, which delivered close to an entire year’s usual rainfall in 48 hours, took meteorologists by surprise and has been blamed by experts on climate change. This new disaster follows three tropical cyclones, and two tropical storms that hit the south-east. AfricaIn six weeks, this was the first month of the year.

The extent of the damage caused by the floods in South Africa earlier this month is still not known. Many victims are still missing and authorities continue to learn of new damage. Durban, an eastern coastal city. Many tens or thousands of people are still without water, and there is growing concern about an outbreak.

Hundreds of shipping containers washed away by flood waters near Durban
Flood waters near Durban swept away hundreds of shipping containers.Photograph: EPA

Uzair, 35, stated that he had to flee his home in Durban, with his wife and eight year-old daughter, when water and mud began to flood through their doors, windows, and plumbing. It happened almost two weeks ago.

“We were lucky to get out alive … Slowly, slowly we had built ourselves up to a livable home with a few possessions and we had left everything. Others suffered even more. We are safe at least,” Ismail told the Guardian.

Some families were nearly completely destroyed by the disaster. Losing eight to 10 members

The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, described a “catastrophe of enormous proportions” and attributed the disaster to the climate emergency.

Displaced people from an informal settlement of Thuthukani, near Tongaat, take refuge at a community hall.
People who have been forced to flee from Thuthukani, a settlement near Tongaat take refuge in a community hall. Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images

“It is telling us that climate change is serious, it is here,” Ramaphosa said as he visited the flooded metropolitan area of eThekwini, which includes Durban, shortly after the floods. “We no longer can postpone what we need to do, and the measures we need to take to deal with climate change.”

Others have echoed Ramaphosa’s warning.

“This is just the beginning of a series of extreme weather events that are linked to climate change … Africa pollutes least and suffers most from climate change,” said Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, the director general of African Risk Capacity, an agency set up by the African Union to help governments better plan for disasters and mitigate their impact.

Floods ravaged the poorest residents of makeshift settlements on unstable, steep-sided gorges in Durban. Many have poor or no drainage systems, and their homes are often shabby and offer little protection from the elements.

Fernaaz Hussain, a 35-year-old coordinator for aid agency Islamic Relief, who lives in Durban, said she had first thought the rain was just part of the city’s tropical weather, but became worried when it did not stop.

“It was just relentless. There was just sheet after sheet and you couldn’t see anything beyond. It never stopped. It got worse and worse. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in my entire life. We feared for our lives when the wind and rain pelted so hard that we were afraid for our windows. [would] break,” Hussain said.

The father of a missing man looks with community members and members of a search and rescue unit in KwaNdengezi, west of Durban.
The father of a man missing looks with community members and members from a search-and-rescue unit in KwaNdengezi (west of Durban). Photograph: Guillem Sartorio/AFP/Getty Images

She described shipping containers floating down motorways and an oil tanker washed up on Durban’s famous beach.

“You can’t do anything to help yourself. You feel totally powerless. And tomorrow it could happen again and there’s nothing we could do,” she said.

Experts agree that Climate crisis: The impact is increasingly obvious across Africa, with tens of millions suffering from drought in the Sahel and parts of east Africa, while the continent’s southeastern coast is hit by intense storms.

The World Weather Attribution network of scientists has pioneered new ways to understand the causes and effects of extreme weather events. said climate change had made the heavy rains along Africa’s south eastern coastline both heavier and more likely.

“Again we are seeing how the people with the least responsibility for climate change are bearing the brunt of the impacts,” said WWA co-founder Friederike Otto, of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

After Tropical Storm Ana struck the region in January and Tropical Cyclone Batsirai smashed into Madagascar in February. It was quickly followed by Tropical Storm Dumako, Tropical Cyclones Emnati, and Gombe.

WWA scientists used weather observations and computer simulations to compare rainfall patterns under today’s climate to that of the pre-industrial area, before global heating.

They focused on two of the wettest periods – during Storm Ana in Malawi and Mozambique and during Cyclone Batsirai in Madagascar.

“In both cases, the results show that rainfall associated with the storms was made more intense by climate change and that episodes of extreme rainfall such as these have become more frequent,” WWA said in a report of their findings.

Their findings were consistent with wider climate research that showed global warming can increase the frequency of rainfall. However, it is difficult to determine exactly how climate change affects extreme events due to a lack of high-quality historical rainfall records for this region.

The South African Weather Service said that although it was impossible to attribute an individual event to the climate crisis, “globally, all forms of severe and extreme weather … are becoming more frequent and more extreme than in the recent past (as a direct result of global warming and associated climate change). In other words, heavy rain events such as the current incident can … be expected to recur in the future and with increasing frequency.”

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A collapsed bridge on the Griffiths Mxenge highway after flooding in Durban.
After flooding in Durban, a collapsed bridge was found on the Griffiths Mxenge Highway. Photograph: Shiraaz Mohamed/AP

Many African countries are not adequately prepared for such catastrophes.

South Africa is the most industrialized country on the continent but it has struggled to provide timely and efficient assistance to flood victims. One reason for the shortage of water among those displaced by the floods in and around Durban there is that around half of the local government’s fleet of 100 water tankers were found to be inoperable when officials ordered their deployment last week. To assist in the aid operation, thousands of troops have been deployed.

Analysts warn that extreme weather events could cause political instability across the continent. South Africa’s failure to provide effective and timely relief to victims has contributed to a lack of faith in the African National Congress since 1994.

“It’s just been normal people helping each other. I’ve had more support from strangers. I won’t even ask the government. The funds always go missing and never reach the right people,” said Husain.

Police had to use teargas in dispersing protesters who were upset at the lack of assistance from authorities.

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“It is only because ANC officials regularly fail to care in desperate moments such as these that so many people are convinced that the party is hopelessly corrupt and that even the flood relief funds will be stolen,” wrote commentator Stephen Grootes In an editorial on the Daily Maverick news site.

Sean Christie of Médecins Sans Frontières said the NGO was working with local health authorities to supply nurses and counsellors to flood victims.

“On psychosocial mental health, we have seen lots and lots of need,” he told the Guardian.

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