South African authorities were releasing emergency funds on Friday to help tens of thousands of people left without shelter, water and electricity by flash floods that washed away homes and roads and killed more than 300 people on the country’s east coast.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told TV station Newsroom Afrika that an initial R1 billion for emergency relief was available for immediate use — local authorities have estimated the damage at several billion rand — and that more would follow.
This week’s floods in Kwazulu-Natal Province have knocked out power lines, shut down water services, interrupted operations at one of Africa’s busiest ports and strewn highways and beaches with debris.
“We are still at an emergency relief stage. There is a need for speed in this matter,” Godongwana said. “The first phase is to get professionals to make an assessment of the damage and the cost. The second phase is going to be a recovery and repair.”
Local TV stations carried footage of volunteers cleaning up plastic containers, piles of bamboo and driftwood from Durban beachfront. Ministers were arriving in Durban on Friday to assess the damage.
Local authorities estimate 341 people have been killed so far — a toll that could rise as they tally the full extent of the damage from the rains. More than 40,000 people have been affected. The province was declared a disaster area on Wednesday to enable emergency relief funds to start flowing.
As the Indian Ocean warms owing to human emissions of heat-trapping gases, scientists believe it is battering Africa’s southwestern coast with more violent storms and floods — a trend likely to worsen dramatically in the next few decades.
Local climate campaigners are calling for greater investment into adaptation to help communities better prepare for weather shocks.