Flooding havoc in parts of Nelson Mandela Bay, but rains not enough to ease drought crisis

23 July 2021 - 09:54 By Guy Rogers and Riaan Marais
Sharefa Adams, from Missionvale, catches water leaking through her shack roof. She had to abandon her room after water started leaking onto her bed.
Sharefa Adams, from Missionvale, catches water leaking through her shack roof. She had to abandon her room after water started leaking onto her bed.
Image: WERNER HILLS

It was the kind of day that can restore hope.

For the first time in months, on Thursday Nelson Mandela Bay and surrounds experienced rain of the sort needed to counter the devastating drought gripping the region.

However, while heavy rain fell in the metro’s western catchment, it was not nearly enough to alleviate concerns over the water crisis, according to SA Weather Service spokesperson Garth Sampson. 

“We can hope for our dams to rise a few percent but this is not going to allay our water crisis,” he said.

“Our consumption is way too high so my message is continue to use water sparingly.”

By the early afternoon, the deluge had not yet spread to water-starved citrus orchards in the Sundays and Gamtoos valleys but farmers were hoping for the best.

Sampson said overnight,  39.4mm of rain was recorded at the Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport.

The Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve received 23.8mm. In the western catchment, 17.2mm fell at Joubertina, 32mm at Kareedouw and 3.8mm at Patensie.

In the western region of the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route, 23mm fell overnight at Cape St Francis, 11.2mm at Port Alfred and 56.6mm at Plettenberg Bay.

No further figures were available by midafternoon on Thursday for key rainfall at Kareedouw, which indicates how much the Kouga Dam could rise.

Several other figures had arrived — including an extra 22mm at the airport, raising that figure to 59.8mm, and 10mm at Patensie, boosting the figure to 13.8mm.

There was also an extra 3mm at Joubertina, bringing it to 20.2mm in total.

Icy temperatures gripped many parts of the Eastern Cape, with snow turning Hogsback into a winter wonderland.  

On Thursday night, Jansenville stock owners were braced to bring in their animals from the cold to prevent fatalities.

The heavy rains were even felt on the offshore islands of Algoa Bay, where scores of penguin chicks were rescued as icy floodwater swept through their nests. 

The rain came in waves in the Bay, flooding shack settlements and turning many streets into rivers.

In impoverished Missionvale, roads were reduced to mud and residents were forced to put out pots and buckets to catch water leaking through shack roofs.

Sharefa Adams, 40, slept on wet mattresses on Wednesday night after a section of the roof above her bed started leaking.

“Even if it stops raining my bedding will be wet, and the room where the leak was won’t be dry for five or six days,” Adams said.

“I understand the metro is in a water crisis and we need the rain, but every time it rains my house leaks.”

An afternoon announcement by Eskom that load-shedding would resume across the country could not have been less welcome. 

A motorcyclist crosses the Baakens River at the Third Avenue dip in Newton Park
A motorcyclist crosses the Baakens River at the Third Avenue dip in Newton Park
Image: WERNER HILLS

In other parts of the metro, flooded roads also caused havoc.

Motorists drive thorough flooded streets in Summerstrand.
Motorists drive thorough flooded streets in Summerstrand.
Image: WERNER HILLS

On Settlers Freeway, between Humerail and the Russell Road off-ramp, a motorist lost control of his vehicle after it hit a puddle covering a large section of the left-hand lane.

The vehicle spun out of control and hit the barriers next to the road multiple times, damaging the car beyond repair.

Luckily, the driver walked away with only minor injuries.

Motorists navigate a flooded section in Hurd Street in Newton Park.
Motorists navigate a flooded section in Hurd Street in Newton Park.
Image: WERNER HILLS

Sampson said some people were calling for more dams in the region, but asked: “How many dams must we build before we arrive at this problem again? 

“It would help if every person had a water tank and made efforts to try to get off the municipal water grid.

“We also need to remove water-sapping alien black wattle in the catchments, and most of all we need to address the problem of over-population.”

The driver lost control of this vehicle when it hit a water puddle on a flooded section of the Settlers Freeway.
The driver lost control of this vehicle when it hit a water puddle on a flooded section of the Settlers Freeway.
Image: WERNER HILLS

Sundays River Valley Citrus Producer Forum chairperson Hannes de Waal said very little rain had fallen in the valley.

“Once you pass Pretoria Portland Cement at Grassridge coming out of Gqeberha, the rain starts to stop. We have had some but not a lot.

“We are busy harvesting so if it came down we would have to stop because you can’t pack wet fruit.

“But we would take three weeks of sitting and not packing for some good rain because it is horrifically dry here.”

He said Sundays River Valley farmers got their water from the Gariep Dam on the border of the Free State and the Eastern Cape, which earlier this week was 90.5% full.

This meant Sundays River Valley citrus farmers were in a much better position than those in the Gamtoos, who rely on the nearly empty Kouga Dam.

Flooding in Summestrand turned out to be the perfect time for Edward Gibbons and Abigale Abrahamson to test their boating skills
Flooding in Summestrand  turned out to be the perfect time for Edward Gibbons and Abigale Abrahamson to test their boating skills
Image: EUGENE COETZEE

Gamtoos Agricultural Association chairperson Petrus du Preez said little rain had fallen in the Gamtoos and, while good rains had fallen in the Langkloof, the tributary rivers flowing from there into the Kouga River feeding the Kouga Dam were so parched it was not clear if this would boost the dam.

“We had 8mm overnight in the valley and they had 20-30mm in the Langkloof and it’s still raining there so we are hoping for the best for the Kouga Dam.

“But we will have to wait and see.

“The Kouga River tributaries are so dry they absorb the water before it can progress and the Baviaanskloof, which supplies 40% of the Kouga Dam inflow.

“Besides the drought itself, another big reason the water is not flowing down the rivers is absorption by alien vegetation. That growth needs to be cleared on a regular basis.”

He said Gamtoos citrus farmers were 60-70% through their harvest and the yield volume was less than expected.

The fruit was smaller in size due to insufficient water at key points during the growth cycle.

Mthibe Ndiweni, 6, spent Thursday afternoon playing in the snow with his family in Hogsback
Mthibe Ndiweni, 6, spent Thursday afternoon playing in the snow with his family in Hogsback
Image: SINO MAJANGAZA

Jansenville merino sheep farmer Mark Blignaut said the weather could be very dangerous for stock.

“We are in the middle of shearing and the cold is fine. We can handle either wind or rain, but not both together.

“If the sheep are wet, and then stand in the freezing rain, we could lose stock.”

Transnet spokesperson Ayanda Shezi said the group’s freight rail, pipeline, engineering and property operations were continuing as normal despite the severe weather but some port work had been affected.

“In the Eastern Cape, terminal operations have been halted due to inclement weather conditions and will  continue manually once it is safe to do so.”

Speaking from Bird Island, SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) ranger Eduard Drost said heavy rain was falling in short spells, gale-force winds were blowing and the sea swell was 4m to 5m.

“There are penguin chick fatalities and I have placed about 80 to 100 birds in safety.”

The icy wet weather is a threat to the endangered African penguins on Bird and St Croix islands because guano to burrow in was stripped a century ago by prospectors.
The icy wet weather is a threat to the endangered African penguins on Bird and St Croix islands because guano to burrow in was stripped a century ago by prospectors.
Image: EDUARD DROST

Sanccob Gqeberha spokesperson Xola Tsewu said the foundation team at Cape Recife had taken in 51 penguins, left stranded during the cold snap last week, with the help of Helicopter Charter & Training. 

Nelson Mandela Bay municipality spokesperson Kupido Baron confirmed localised flooding in low-lying areas.

“It is causing concern for motorists and residents of  lower-lying areas like Walmer township, and parts of Helenvale and Kuyga are receiving assistance from municipal disaster management staff due to waterlogged homes.”

Bay disaster management director Shane Brown said the rain was expected to clear by Friday morning.

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