SUNDAY TIMES - Misery of Mandela Park inferno leaves 4,000 homeless
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Sunday Times News By PHILANI NOMBEMBE, 2017-03-12 00:03:00.0

Misery of Mandela Park inferno leaves 4,000 homeless

The smoking ruins of shacks and cars are all that remains after yesterday's fire in Mandela Park, Hout Bay.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER

A warning of severe winds left Cape Town fearing more runaway fires today after nine people died in blazing shacks yesterday.

The worst of yesterday's fires razed up to 1,000 shacks in Mandela Park, Hout Bay, leaving an estimated 4,000 people homeless.

Charlotte Powell, spokeswoman for the City of Cape Town's disaster risk management centre, said officials were taking the weather service's gale warning seriously. Emergency services had been put on high alert.

Mandela Park community leader Samkele Krweqe said the community was used to dealing with fires. "We will get 25 metal sheets, 15 poles, a door, window frame and nails and we will be told to rebuild homes and our lives," he said.

"Officials will also promise us that 'something will be done about this situation'. That has been the story of our lives. People need houses."

Powell said council officials were in Mandela Park offering humanitarian relief to the fire victims. "We are offering blankets, hot meals and shelter in community halls. Once the area is cleared and a proper assessment is made, we will issue fire kits for the residents to rebuild their homes. The Department of Home Affairs has also been notified as well as social services."

Heavily pregnant Nomaxabiso Ndude was one of those who lost everything in the blaze. But as she hunched among hundreds of residents who saw their homes reduced to ashes and twisted metal, she said the only thing that mattered was her unborn child.

The 27-year-old had been up since midnight trying to save a suitcase containing her baby clothes. But as she nursed her sore body she got news that the case, left at a relative's shack for safekeeping, had burnt.

"This is the second time I have lost everything to a fire. My shack burnt down in February last year and I couldn't save anything," she said.

"We are waiting for government officials to tell us what to do. We have nowhere to go and I only have these clothes on my back."

Theo Layne, spokesman for the city's fire and rescue services, said there were two confirmed fatalities in Mandela Park. Another four people died in Wesbank when three structures caught fire, and three died in Kosovo, near Philippi.

"Some of the animals have burns, others are just terrified after running for their lives," Szabo said.

Numerous Cape Town organisations and businesses opened collection centres where people could drop off supplies for the homeless, who are expected to be living in community halls for up to six days.

The central collection point is Hout Bay fire station, and Powell said priority items required were non-perishable foods, baby food and disposable nappies.

The Domestic Animal Rescue Group in Hout Bay said it had taken in more than 70 dogs whose owners were left homeless by the fire, and expected that number to double by today.

"We are desperate for dog food, water, blankets and crates," said Kelly Szabo, a hotel manager from Camps Bay who volunteered to help with the animals after dropping off refreshments for firefighters.

Cape Town Cycle Tour organisers warned the 35,000 riders due to start this year's race today to withdraw if they were not comfortable about riding in strong winds.

"We have been advised that there is a high probability of severe winds within the next 24 hours," they said.

"We strongly urge [cyclists] who are either not comfortable or do not have experience riding in strong winds, to carefully consider their decision to participate."