Twisters leave behind a trail of destruction
Eight people were killed, and scores injured, when tornadoes tore through three northeastern Free State towns, destroying dozens of homes.
The two Saturday storms, which struck just before midnight, ripped up trees, flattened houses and hurled debris through the air.
The tornadoes struck just eight months after two twisters tore through the Free State town of Ficksburg and the Gauteng settlement of Duduza, killing two children and leaving hundreds homeless.
On Sunday, as emergency workers toiled to carry out final mop-up operations, residents from the farming towns of Bethlehem, Deneysville and the holiday town of Oranjeville began picking up the pieces of their lives.
Three people were killed in Bethlehem when a tornado tore through an informal settlement. One person was killed in Oranjeville.
The other four people who were killed, were ANC Youth League members.
They died when the bus they were travelling in outside Bethlehem was overturned, apparently by the powerful winds.
The accident, which left 58 people injured, occurred as the group returned to the Thabo Mofutsonyane region after a rally in Bethlehem.
The owner of Manten Marina, Kathy Manten, said the tornado was "around 80m wide".
"It fortunately did not disturb much; only four boats were overturned."
She said although the tornado had been big, damage could easily be fixed.
"It's nothing serious, although I have been getting lots of calls from people wanting to know if their boats are safe."
While Deneysville homeowners had a lucky escape - only the perimeter brick walls of two houses were damaged - residents of Bethlehem were not so lucky.
Senne Bogatsu, a spokesman for the Free State department of provincial cooperative governance and traditional affairs said: "Thirty families from Tlholong township, whose houses were damaged, are affected."
Bogatsu said the extent of the damage and the total number of people affected had yet to be established.
"A community hall has been converted into an evacuation centre, although few people have made use of it. The majority of those affected have been taken in by their families," she said.
Bogatsu said five people were taken to hospital, one of them in a serious condition. Four people from Eeram were also taken to hospital.
"The joint operations centre is assessing structural damage, establishing basic needs such as food, blankets, counselling and injuries, and clearing up debris."
ER24 spokesman Werner Vermaak confirmed the youth league casualties as four killed and 58 injured when their bus overturned.
"The accident could have been caused by strong winds in the area," he said.
Vermaak said those who were injured had been taken to several hospitals with fractured limbs, lacerations, bruises and some suspected spinal injuries.
He said people living in informal settlements were the most vulnerable in these situations.
"The shacks are not secure and residents need to find safer shelter when warned of severe weather conditions," he said.
Weather forecaster Karl Loots said warnings about the threat of tornadoes had been sent out via TV and radio on Friday.
The ANC Youth League said the death of its members was a tragedy. - Additional reporting Sapa