Western Cape officials brace for storm‚ prepare for ‘extraordinary circumstances’
The air force is on standby‚ schools are closed‚ swells of up to 12 metres are bearing down on the coast and people are being urged to stay indoors.
What is expected to be the worst storm in living memory in the Western Cape when it makes landfall on Wednesday is not expected to break the worst drought in the province in more than a century‚ but on Tuesday disaster management teams were preparing for what the provincial government called “extraordinary circumstances”.
Forecasters warned of gales exceeding 90km/h‚ at least 50mm of rain in 24 hours and “very high seas” as the storm surge coincided with spring tides.
South African Weather Service communications director Hannelee Doubell said people should not take the warnings lightly.
“Residents should make real preparations for the storm. They should be prepared to stay inside their homes. Outside they should tie down their belongings because we are expecting abnormally strong winds‚” she said.
The weather service issued warnings for several areas in the Western Cape including the winelands‚ the Cape metropole‚ and the Overberg‚ saying damaging winds‚ high seas and flooding could result in “loss of life”.
The City of Cape Town appealed to people on the Atlantic seaboard — probably the most expensive stretch of real estate on the continent — to take “special precautions to protect their properties”.
And it advised residents anywhere on the coast to consider moving their cars to higher ground. “It is key that the general public stays away from the coastal areas for their own safety‚” said Charlotte Powell of the council disaster management centre.
After an emergency cabinet meeting which endorsed the unprecedented decision to close schools on Wednesday‚ the Western Cape government said: “While our rescue agencies are well equipped and prepared to handle disasters‚ we strongly advise members of the public to stay off the roads and remain indoors.
“It is imperative that all measures are taken to avoid any harm or possible loss of life. The work of the emergency rescue services will also be made easier if the roads are clear of unnecessary traffic.”
Airports Company South Africa’s spokeswoman at Cape Town International Airport‚ Deidre Davids‚ advised travellers to stay in touch with airlines for up-to-date information.
“There are no flights that have been cancelled yet‚ the individual airlines will make a determination on that. What we have done from a preparatory perspective is make sure that the ground handlers have secured their equipment appropriately‚” Davids said.
James-Brent Styan‚ spokesman for local government‚ environmental affairs and development planning MEC Anton Bredell‚ said the unprecedented move to close schools followed warnings “that this is going to be the worst storm we’ve had in 30 years”.
“We are afraid of situations where children are going to be caught in flash floods. We are worried about gale-force winds and about the rural areas‚ where mudslides [could occur] and roads could be washed away.
“We’ve been advised that it’s safer and a better call to be proactive and close the schools‚ so we’re working on information provided from all the experts that look at the weather and say that these are the worst conditions they’d seen in 30 years.”
Styan said the South African Air Force was on high alert‚ even though helicopters might not be able to fly in the winds.
“We’ll see what the situation is. The problem is we have a very big province and we don’t know what’s going to happen where. If we need someone to get to Oudtshoorn very quickly you need a helicopter‚” said Styan.
The Western Cape disaster management operations centre put its specialised technical rescue team on standby on Tuesday night to carry out water-related rescues.
A statement from the province added: “We have an open line with the South African Defence Force command post in Pretoria should additional aircraft be required for search and rescue.
“While our rescue agencies are well equipped and prepared to handle disasters‚ we strongly advise members of the public to stay off the roads and remain indoors. It is imperative that all measures are taken to avoid any harm or possible loss of life.
“The Department of Water and Sanitation is monitoring rivers and will provide updates on potential flooding.
“In case of emergencies‚ we encourage people to report any incidents on 112 or 10177. We further urge members of the public to desist from sending out any unauthorised communication. This could cause confusion and raise unnecessary panic.
“Under these extraordinary circumstances‚ disaster management are preparing for the worst‚ as they are required to do. In this instance‚ we err on the side of caution to ensure all necessary preparations are in place.”
Emergency services were also put on standby in the Eastern Cape‚ with gusts up to 100km/h and wave heights between six and nine metres expected along the Nelson Mandela Bay coastline.
“Gale-force winds can be expected along the south coast‚ moving toward East London on Thursday‚” said weather service spokesman Garth Sampson.
“Some showers are expected along the south coast‚ but most of the rain will impact the Western Cape. Not much is expected to fall over the Eastern Cape.”
The NSPCA appealed to pet owners to keep animals indoors if possible and ensure that those outdoors have adequate shelter.
—Additional reporting by Riaan Marais
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