Heavy rains and floods have battered the eastern coast of South Africa, killing at least 250 people, damaging roads and destroying houses, prompting authorities to urge residents to stay at home. Local authorities are calling for a state of disaster to be declared, after some areas saw months’ worth of rain fall in one day.
Officials have called it “one of the worst weather storms in the history of our country”.
Mudslides have trapped people under buildings, with more floods expected.
There are reports that the rescue effort is being hampered by poor visibility as a helicopter continues to bring people back to safety.
On Tuesday the BBC witnessed one such search operation for a 10-year-old girl who was part of a family of four swept away on a flooded bridge.
“The heavy rains have affected power lines in many municipalities with technical teams working around the clock to restore power,” Hlomuka added.
Power stations have been flooded and are inaccessible in the hard-hit eThekwini municipality, Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda told reporters, while water mains were also damaged.
The local government has asked private and religious institutions to assist with emergency relief operations, and have requested help from the South African National Defense Force to provide aerial support, he said.
Community volunteers waded into the muddy river, taking turns to hack away at the branches using machetes and removing debris and rubbish that had washed downstream.
Jomba Phiri, who lives in the region’s main city, Durban, said his house had been swept away in the floods.
Parts of the crucial N3 highway which connects Durban to the economic heartland of Gauteng province have been blocked.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has visited the area and pledged to help.
“Even though your hearts are in pain, we’re here for you,” the Reuters news agency quotes him as saying.
He also described the disaster as a force of nature, which some have disagreed with. They blame poor drainage and badly built houses in low-lying areas for the high death toll.
Electricity and water treatment plants have been “flooded out”, the Durban mayor told the BBC.
Communications have also been disrupted with two major networks reporting that more than 900 of their cell phone towers are down.
Declaring the flood-stricken area a disaster zone will “enable the province to apply for emergency funding” from the National Treasury and assist with necessary reconstruction work, authorities say.
There are also reports of looting in Durban, which the local government has condemned: “We will not allow what is a tragic development in our province to be taken advantage of,” it said.
The government is calling on people to stay safe by avoiding flooded roads and bridges and to evacuate to higher ground if they live in low-lying areas.