AN OVERNIGHT thunderstorm destroyed a number of houses in at least six villages in the Nkomazi area along the Mozambique-Swaziland borders, leaving about 15000 people homeless.

The affected villages, which fall under the Nkomazi municipality, are Bangwane, Tsambokhulu, Mbuzini, Mananga, Sibange and Mthatha.

Nkomazi is made up of about 52 villages.

This is the second time in less than three months that the area has been devastated by a thunderstorm.

Spokesperson for the municipality Cyril Ripinga said yesterday: "People were left homeless on Wednesday afternoon as their houses were badly damaged. Roofs were blown away and windows were shattered."

Ripinga said the municipality has provided affected communities with tents, blankets and food parcels.

The municipality's executive mayor Johan Mavuso was seen handing out blankets and clothing to some of the affected families yesterday.

Forster Ntuli from Sibayeni Block C said he was visiting relatives in Mananga when they were forced to take refuge in a nearby house because of the unexpected storm. "We saw black clouds gathering but never had an idea that it would turn out to be such a violent storm.

"Hardly a few minutes after running into the house, its roof was blown away," a traumatised Ntuli said.

"I thought we were going to die because the corrugated iron sheets could have cut us into pieces. We thank God for saving our lives."

Another victim from Tsambokhulu, Irene Siboza, said her four-year-old child hid under the bed as soon as the roof of her house went off.

"We did not know where my son was until we heard him screaming from under the bed," Siboza said.

No injuries were immediately reported.