South Africa — Gale-force winds, hail, snow and plummeting temperatures have brought disaster and death across the country.
Runaway fires in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and Mpumalanga have left hundreds homeless and claimed the lives of at least 10 people.
“It’s like a war zone here. The fires are out of control. Please tell motorists to stay away,” Melmoth Protection Services officer Derek Hornes said on Sunday.
Earlier, the KZN emergency ambulance service reported that as many as 15 people had been killed by numerous blazes ripping through the area.
Ten fatalities were later confirmed. A protection service officer in the Melmoth area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s smoke everywhere. It’s chaotic. The fires are totally out of control.”
On Saturday night the region’s only firefighting plane crashed near Babanango shortly after take-off, killing the pilot.
Hornes said water bombs could no longer be used.
SABC news reported on Sunday night that the veld fire between Bethlehem and Warden in the Free State, which had been extinguished earlier, had flared up again because of strong winds.
Fire protection official Charl Genis said the fire was spreading to Warden and also to Lindley and Arlington. Large numbers of game and cattle had died.
Firefighters in the area were still without any help from helicopters as these were being used in KZN to help with veld fires there.
Meanwhile, heavy storms battered Cape Town and surrounding areas, causing widespread disruption ranging from power outages to flooding.
Four people, including a 5-year-old girl, were killed in shack fires, and more than a dozen were injured in road crashes, and by structures collapsing under the pummelling winds.
Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, Cape Town’s disaster risk management centre spokesperson, said the weekend rain had caused flooding, power disruptions and damage to dwellings.
Informal settlements, including Philippi, Nyanga, Langa and Llwandle in Strand, were affected by downpours, and teams were assessing the situation.
Fires raged in three informal settlements.
A resident was killed in Wallacedene when six shacks burnt down, and two residents died when their shack in Bloekombos was razed.
Twenty minutes before the Bloekombos fire, 5-year-old Nonqiza Ngaca was killed in a structure which burnt down in New Crossroads.
Solomons-Johannes said gale-force winds had wreaked havoc with Cape Town’s electricity supply, with falling trees bringing down powerlines.
The bad weather across the country coincides with Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the US Gulf Coast, an earthquake in China and massive flooding in India.
On Sunday, Gustav had New Orleans firmly in its sights after leaving wreckage through western Cuba, weather officials said.
The “large tropical cyclone” was 520km south-east of the mouth of the Mississippi River, where the New Orleans is located.
Winds reached 195km/h, making it a category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale – down from category 4 a few hours earlier.
Coming three years nearly to the day that Hurricane Katrina buried New Orleans with a flood surge and killed about 1 800, residents were heeding mayor Ray Nagin’s mandatory order to evacuate.
Tens of thousands headed north in private vehicles, or were being picked up by city officials and taken to bus and railway evacuation hubs.
In China, about 30 people were killed or reported missing and about 258 000 homes destroyed in a powerful earthquake in the southwest of the country, state media said on Sunday.
In Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, more than 460 people were injured in Saturday’s 6.1-magnitude quake.
And, in the Indian state of Bihar, up to 2 000 people were feared dead after a river changed course, flooding hundreds of villages.
Stranded villagers were surviving on uncooked rice mixed with dirty water, as authorities struggled to deliver aid to the displaced millions after the worst floods to hit the eastern state in 50 years.