Man dies, roads shut as snow hits

Mary Papayya, Vusi Ndlovu and Vuyolwethu Sangotsha

Mary Papayya, Vusi Ndlovu and Vuyolwethu Sangotsha

Snowfalls throughout the country caused chaos yesterday.

The weather forced the closure of major roads, delayed flight departures and left one person dead in Johannesburg.

Kokstad, in KwaZulu-Natal, was the worst affected with all roads leading in and out of the town closed to traffic.

Communities in Kokstad townships remained without electricity overnight. Motorists abandoned their trucks and vehicles in the white fields and headed for warmer shelter after being trapped in the snow for hours.

Resident Yandisa Ndamase said it was the first time that the town has experienced a blackout on such a wide scale.

"We have had snowfalls before, but nothing like this. Businesses in the area are using generators to keep fridges and other equipment working."

Several roads in KwaZulu-Natal had to be closed to traffic after heavy snowfalls in parts of the province. Rescue and emergency teams had to rescue eight motorists who were trapped in snow.

Earlier yesterday roads in the region's Midlands and Umzimkhulu districts had to be closed to traffic as ice and sleet covered large parts of the area.

By noon the ice crystals had melted and the roads were reopened. Snowfalls also forced the closure of mountain passes on two major roads in the Eastern Cape.

Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesman Rajen Chinaboo said wet weather conditions also hampered visibility on most roads in the province.

The closure of the roads started on Tuesday night and continued until yesterday morning. Provincial Arrive Alive spokesman Tshepo Machaea said the R61 between Graaff Reinet and Cradock was closed because of snowfall in the Wapadsberg.

The N9 between Graaff Reinet and Middelburg was also closed because of the snowfalls in Lootersburg, as was the Penhoek Pass on the N6 between Queenstown and Jamestown.

"But we are busy opening the roads right now," said Machaea.

In Johannesburg, Emergency Services spokesman Malcolm Midgley said the body of a man was found outside the Noord Street taxi rank.

Another homeless person, Mandla Khumalo, who lives under the bridge at the Faraday Taxi Rank, said: "I have not slept since yesterday. This is one of the coldest nights I have experienced in 10 years. I have only one blanket and I sleep on cardboard."

Venetia Magane, of the South African Weather Service, said conditions were expected to improve in some parts of the country from today.

She said showers were expected in KwaZulu-Natal and coastal regions of the Eastern Cape. She said temperatures were expected to pick up from 7 degrees to 12 degrees in Johannesburg today.

"By Friday the weather would have improved in all parts of the country," said Magane.

l Meanwhile, Sapa reports that flights departing from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg were delayed for up to three hours yesterday morning because layers of ice covered the airplane after snowfalls in the area.

The airport emergency services had to use fire trucks to hose down grounded planes covered with ice and snow, the Airports Company of South Africa spokesman Tasniem Patel said.

Flights arriving in Johannesburg were also delayed by 15 minutes. The delays at the Johannesburg airport also affected operations in Durban.