Disaster Management Team scramble to resolve flood crisis in Newcastle

Finnemore Street and Montague Street is flooded.

The Provincial Joint Operations Committee gathered together for an emergency Amajuba District Disaster Meeting, earlier this morning, February 22, to discuss the flooding around Newcastle.

Attending parties included members of various government departments; namely Disaster Management, Water and Sanitation, Social Development and Human Settlements.  SASSA members, Dannhauser and Emadlageni municipal officials, Red Cross members, and management from TRIVS Medical Services and Newcastle 911 were also present.

The project manager of Al-Imdaad Foundation, a humanitarian aid organisation, and the Chief Traffic Officer of Newcastle Municipality also attended.

The meeting was led by Director of the Provincial Disaster Management Centre, Sibongiseni Ngema, Acting Chief Officer and Divisional Commander of Disaster Management and Fire Safety, Nelson Mpeko, and Head of Disaster Management of Amajuba District, Otty Tshabalala.

Acting Chief Officer and Divisional Commander of Disaster Management and Fire Safety, Nelson Mpeko, Director of the Provincial Disaster Management Centre, Sibongiseni Ngema, and Head of Disaster Management of Amajuba District, Otty Tshabalala.

Mr Mpeko said the flooding started on Sunday, February 19, where several roads were closed, there was severe flooding on premises, and power outages occurred.

“The area’s most affected since Sunday were the CBD, Paradise, Amcor Dam, Madadeni Sections 1, 2, and 3.”  He said the informal settlement, H39 was also affected as was Bosworth Farm.

“On Monday, February 20, the rain subsided a bit but then started to gain momentum during the course of the day.  We were forced to close the Amcor Bridge, Sutherland Street, Umfolozi Avenue, Driekop Place, Siyahlala, and roads in Sunny Ridge.  Madadeni Section 2 was also affected as there are many mud houses and low-lying areas.”

He said the problem with Madadeni is the lack of infrastructure in terms of proper drainage systems.

“The roads were built at higher levels and cause water to flow down to low-lying areas, and aside from water flooding the houses, sewage pipes start to burst.”

Mr Mpeko said 11 people were evacuated to the Fairleigh Community Hall, and 12 were evacuated to the Madadeni Community Hall yesterday, February 21.Community Development Worker of CoGTA, Nolwazi Mkhulise said there were 16 people at Fairleigh community Hall this morning.

“Five more people came during the course of the night, four from Paradise and one from Siyahlala.”

Mr Mpeko said residents in St Thomas Street who were reluctant to leave their properties were provided with sandbags to divert the heavy flows of water away from the houses.

Kirkland Street is currently being used as a temporary Taxi Rank and Murchison Street as a Bus Rank.  All roads are being monitored and supervised in the CBD as it is highly congested.  There are also massive potholes on certain road and the Department of Transport has been notified.

“They sent out teams to do immediate temporary work on the roads.”

The Newcastle taxi rank is closed.

Mr Ngema said the flooding isn’t only in Newcastle.

“It is a provincial jog now because there are a number of surrounding towns that were affected, although Newcastle does seem to be the most affected at the moment.”

Danhauser Municipality Community Service member, Siyabonga Khumalo said the dam wall collapsed in Danhauser, but they are still assessing the situation and other damages caused by the flood.  He said many of their drainage pipes are blocked and they are building trenches to divert water.

Emadlangeni Disaster Management official, Nomsa Zungu said nothing was reported in Emadlangeni but they think it is because the networks are down.  “Generally things get reported much later because residents need to walk to the offices because they can’t contact us over the phone.”

Mr Ngema suggested ward councillors should go out and assess the damages in their areas and report back to the committee.

Chief Traffic Officer, Ashok Anandhaw said there were many challenges resulting from this flood, which the community must pay heed to, including:

  • People are reluctant to evacuate timelessly.  He said they were holding on to their possessions and they need to prioritise their lives above all else in situations like these.
  • He said barrier tape was put up to close roads all over the town because there was not enough man power.  People are removing this tape unnecessarily, and it is not safe to be on those roads.
  • People who have left their flooded houses go back after some time and try to retrieve things after the flood and they are getting stuck and it is making the rescuing harder to do.
  • Due to road closures, there are high volumes of traffic in certain areas of town.  Residents need to minimize their travelling during this period and they must be patient.  People must understand there is a situation at hand which is abnormal to every other day.
  • He said the sandbag stock was running low, and more were required.
  • He said there was an issue with transporting residents to designated places of safety, especially pedestrians, so a vehicle needed to be assigned for that purpose.
  • Another issue at hand is there are a lot of cattle roaming around trying to escape the rain.
  • He said pets are also an issue because what happens to the animals if families need to evacuate.  So he suggested the community halls should accommodate for this.

Backed up traffic on St Dominic Street this morning.

Mr Ngema said the Disaster Management Act states in a situation like this children, women and the elderly must be treated as priority.  He said schools that are closed as a result of the flooding, need to be assessed as a matter of urgency.

“I am worried that the Department of Transport is not present at this meeting because the Traffic Department cannot fix the potholes and road damage caused by the rains.  This is a time where we need to use all our resources and network with each other to resolve the problem.”

SASSA members are also actively involved ready to provide services they offer.  They provide vanity packs and liaise with Red  Cross to provide a soup kitchen for affected residents.  If there are any fatalities they provide a grant for the family of the deceased.  SASSA also provides psychosocial support to ensure learners are taken care off if they are affected by the disaster.

Operations Manager of TRIVS Medical Service, Jan-Henk van Vuuren, raised concerns about an outbreak of diseases during flooding.  Rishi Lackan from the Department of Water and Sanitation said he will be taking samples of the water to see if there is anything wrong with it as a matter of urgency.

Mr Mpeko also warned there could be snakes around the flooded areas and residents must be careful and weary of their surroundings.

Johan Pieters of Newcastle 911 said their teams were involved in helping residents last night.  They are currently arranging food for the destitute residents in collaboration with Red Cross and the Al-Imaad Foundation is also willing to assist if the need arises.

Mr Ngema predicts the number of flood victims will increase and will need necessities, which the Disaster Management team must provide.

Mr Pieters appealed to the community to donate food and blankets for residents.  Food items which would be preferred include soup, canned food, maize meal, milk, coffee, sugar, juice, rice, vegetables, samp, morvite, salt, butter, and dry beans.  These items can be taken to Protection Services as it has been allocated as the main collection point.  Red Cross will then distribute the food accordingly.

If there are any residents who require assistance contact Mr Mpeko on 072 421 8939 or 061 424 6464.

Payal Devisingh

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