395 dead, dozens missing after 'apocalyptic' floods batter South Africa

Updated on Apr 15, 2022 06:16 PM IST

"Sadly the number of fatalities continues to increase with the latest figure standing at 395," regional head of the disaster managing ministry Sipho Hlomuka said in a statement.

Men gesture while women fill buckets with water from a stream in the Inanda district of Durban, on April 15, 2022, near a waterfall created by a collapsed road.  (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)(AFP)
Men gesture while women fill buckets with water from a stream in the Inanda district of Durban, on April 15, 2022, near a waterfall created by a collapsed road.  (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)(AFP)
AFP |

The death toll from South Africa's devastating floods surged to 395 on Friday as rescuers widened the search for dozens still missing five days after the disaster struck. "Sadly the number of fatalities continues to increase with the latest figure standing at 395," news agency AFP quoted regional head of the disaster managing ministry Sipho Hlomuka.

Police, army and volunteers on Friday widened the search for dozens still missing five days after the deadliest storm to strike South Africa's coastal city of Durban in living memory.

The 'unprecedented' floods affected nearly 41,000 and left a massive trail of destruction.

In the KwaZulu-Natal province 55 people have been reported missing so far.

A fleet of cars and helicopters set out early Friday to comb through a valley in a suburb west of Durban to look for 12 others reported missing in the floods, AFP correspondents said.

It is an increasingly desperate search for survivors.

Travis Trower, a director for the volunteer-run organisation Rescue South Africa, said his teams had found only corpses after following up 85 calls on Thursday.

"It's unfortunate, but we do the best we can for as many people as we can," he told AFP at a small airport north of Durban, one of the rescue hubs

Thousands of survivors, homeless after their houses were destroyed, are being housed in shelters across the city, sleeping on cardboard sheets and mattresses laid on floors.

Volunteers, with hand gloves and trash bags, fanned across the city's beaches to pick up debris left by the storms ahead of an expected surge of Easter weekend holidaymakers.

- 'Absolute devastation, horrendous sight' -

Software manager Morne Mustard, 35, was among scores of volunteers, who included children, picking up debris and broken reeds from Durban's famous Umhlanga beach.

"This is my local beach where I bring my kids, and this is where we spend our weekend, so this is for our community."

He roped in workmates, families and friends to help clean up as beach restaurants offered free breakfast for the volunteers.

Recalling the day the rain fell, Mustard said, "It didnt feel real, absolute devastation, a horrendous sight, stuff spilling out on the beach must have come from someone's house... brooms and mops, household utensils, it was such a heart sore to see."

Some of Durban's poorest residents lined up on Thursday to collect water from burst pipes and dug through layers of mud to retrieve their scant possessions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the region a state of disaster to unlock relief funds.

Weather forecasters said apocalyptic levels of rain were dumped on the region over several days.

Some areas received more than 450 millimetres (18 inches) over 48 hours, or nearly half of Durban's annual rainfall, the national weather service said.

The South African Weather Service has issued an Easter weekend warning of thunderstorms and localised flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring 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.

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