Durban floods trap many

Mhlaba Memela and Sapa

At least 20 people trapped inside cars and homes by rising water levels during a heavy overnight downpour in Durban were rescued by the police's Search and Rescue team.

"We used a police boat to move many people away from the Island Hotel in Isipingo and we assisted several others who were stuck in cars because of rising flood water," the unit's commander, Captain Troy Alison, said yesterday.

Several Durban roads were closed yesterday after heavy overnight rains caused mudslides and deep pools.

The downpour affected, among others, the suburbs of Merebank, Umlazi, Chatsworth, Pinetown, Isiphingo, Yellowwood Park, Amanzimtoti, Prospecton, and Durban North.

The fire department divisional commander, Owen Singh, said there were several incidents throughout Durban in the flash floods.

High levels of water had swept through several shack settlements and firemen had to rescue motorists in Edwin Swales VC Drive who were trapped by rising water.

"Firemen had to take them off their cars and put them on the fire tender."

The motorists were then taken to the fire station and sheltered temporarily as the heavy downpour continued.

ER24 spokesman Derrick Banks said roads in Merebank were severely flooded and cars were submerged.

"There were also reports of walls collapsing and many car accidents were reported; but there were no serious injuries," he said.

Ethekwini Metro police spokesman Superintendent John-Thomas Tyala said mudslides had come down from road banks and onto busy roads.

"It was thick mud because a truck and car even got stuck in the mud and called for assistance," he said.

In Merebank, there were reports of water levels so high that water was seeping into people's homes, Tyala said.

He said emergency services had advised residents to temporarily evacuate the area.

The Durban weather bureau said Merebank, in the Durban South basin, was one of the areas worst affected.

Metro police officer Inspector Deveneran Pillay, who lives in Merebank, said the area near the racecourse was completely submerged.

"People were helping each other, breaking walls to get people out of houses.

"The water levels were up to 1,8metres. Cars were floating and completely submerged," he said.

The emergency services could not be reached and neither could the ward councillor. "No one picked up their phones. We tried to contact emergency services and disaster management and no-one came out."

Pillay said people were awake in the early hours of Wednesday, helping each other.

"It's a disaster, a total disaster. Pre-cast walls have fallen and there is not one official to help these people."

But, Tyala said the Metro police had not received any reports of walls or roofs collapsing.

The out-patients department, pharmacy and the surgical stores at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital at Umlazi were flooded.

Patients were moved into a shelter for a few hours while workers in the hospital cleared the flooded areas.