3 Dead in Floods in Western and Eastern Cape, South Africa

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The small settlement of Pearston in the picturesque Blue Crane Route Municipality in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa had a wet start to 2014 when parts of the town were inundated by floodwaters on Sunday 5 January. The Vogel River (incorrectly named Blyde River in some reports), which is normally not more than a small stream, burst its banks on Sunday night, causing flash-flooding that left several families homeless.

Fifty homes were damaged and a footbridge that links the two sides of the town was washed away. Seven families were evacuated and given shelter in the community centre.

Municipal Supervisor Zola Doro said 108mm fell in less than an hour, causing flash-flooding that damaged houses and infrastructure. The short downpour caused the river to rise 4m (12 feet) above its normal level. Emergency services from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, almost 250km (150 miles) away, to assist with repairing parts of the sewerage system within the town.

Pearston is a town of 4 000 people situated in a normally dry part of the Karoo region of the Eastern Cape province. Residents said they had never experienced anything like this. Fortunately there were no injuries, but the South African Weather Service is predicting a 60% chance of further heavy rains over the Western and Eastern Cape provinces until Thursday 9 January.

Residents in the town of Laingsburg which is situated between Cape Town and Beaufort West in the Western Cape province, but also lies in the semi-arid Karoo region, had a chilling reminder of the 1981 floods that killed over 100 residents, many of them in an old age home, when the Buffels River again burst its banks on Tuesday 7 January 2014.

laingsburg floods south africa
Laingsburg floods, South Africa, January 2014. Photo: Johannes Jacobs

The N1 national road route between Cape Town and Johannesburg was temporarily closed on Wednesday morning due to floodwaters, but the bridge over the Buffels River was not washed away. The road was partially opened to traffic again on Wednesday afternoon, with traffic taking turns from each direction to use the single undamaged lane of the road. The SA National Defence Force was placed on standby in the area, but a disaster situation is not expected.

Some of the town’s water pipes were damaged by floodwater, leaving many homes and businesses in Laingsburg without potable water, but no injuries were reported.

Residents of towns in the mountainous region to the southwest were not so fortunate. Two women in the town of Robertson were swept away by the flooding Breede River on Tuesday 7 January 2014. They were among a group of 5 people who had taken shelter under a bridge from stormy weather. Their bodies were found late on Tuesday. Police spokesman Captain van Wyk said that the bodies had been retrieved from the river during a search for another man who had fallen into the river from the town’s Adderley Street bridge.

Over 110mm (4⅓ inches) fell in the area on Tuesday, flooding roads in and around Robertson and nearby Ashton.

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Sources: Enca; PE Herald; IOL; EWN here and here