Picture: 123RF/Surut Wattanamaetee
Picture: 123RF/Surut Wattanamaetee

Transnet Port Terminals on Tuesday activated its disaster management plan following recent heavy rains and flooding that has affected its terminal operations in Durban and Richards Bay.

Provincial authorities on Tuesday confirmed that more than 32 people had died after torrential rains incessantly  pounded the coastal province over the Easter holidays. Settlements were flooded and a number of buildings, including a church, collapsed in the rain.

The ports of Durban and Richards Bay are key conduits for SA’s global trade.

Goods worth R3.3-trillion entered SA’s borders via the port in Durban, according to trade data released in March. This equates to about 47.2% of the value of all goods imported into SA, the data said.

Richards Bay’s terminal was initially built for the export of coal, but it has since expanded into other bulk cargoes. It is SA’s premier bulk port and the most modern. Richards Bay handles in excess of 80-million tons annually, representing 55% of the country’s seaborne cargo. This makes it SA’s largest port in terms of volumes handled.

“The Transnet Freight Rail train service on the Natcor  [Natal Corridor] line has been temporarily suspended due to obstruction to the railway tracks,” the utility said.

The sections and yards affected include among others, the Durban main line to Pietermaritzburg and the north coast line to Empangeni.

“Transnet National Ports Authority continues to monitor shipping closely. But all tugs are operational,” the utility said, adding that it had begun assessments to establish the full extent of damage caused by the storm.

Co-operative governance &traditional affairs spokesperson Senzo Mzila said 23 deaths of the 32 were recorded in Durban and nine others died outside the city with the figure set to rise.

In Chatsworth, south of Durban, rescue workers recovered nine bodies on Tuesday after a mudslide destroyed the home of a caretaker at Westcliff Secondary School. 

eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede warned communities to avoid building homes in areas prone to flooding. 

“They must not build in areas they are not supposed to because the soil in these areas lie on flood banks and we are warning our communities of this because more floods are coming.”

Gumede said disaster management teams have already been deployed to various sectors of the city to establish assembly points for displaced families. 

“We have put up marquees, spoken to local priests and have opened up our community halls so our community can go and settle there to get hot meals and be safe until everything has been cleared. We want all our public members to be safe, if you feel that where you are is not safe, please phone your councillor because we are all working together to resolve this issue.”

She said that a state of emergency would only be declared when the provincial government had completed its investigation into the extent of damage within the province.