By Krishnee Naidoo

Physical injuries, extensive damage, and huge financial losses have been incurred in the wake of the heavy gale force winds that tore through Phoenix and surrounding areas on Saturday leaving an aftermath of destruction in its path.

Members of Reaction Unit South Africa received a barrage of calls for assistance as the intense winds battered the Phoenix and Mount Edgecombe area including Verulam and Tongaat.

Speaking to the Phoenix Tabloid, head of RUSA, Prem Balram said, “Reaction officers attended to 252 callouts in the two hours after gale force winds ripped through the north coast of Durban on Saturday. A pedestrian was injured in Phoenix after he was struck on the head by a branch from a tree which had broken off during the heavy winds which exceeded 140km/h. The man was transported to hospital for injuries he had sustained to his head, face and body. He was unconscious upon being admitted to hospital.”

“Two vehicles were crushed by uprooted trees in Mount Edgecombe. The occupants of both vehicles were not injured however the vehicles were extensively damaged. Several trees were uprooted and damaged property. Traffic was delayed in certain areas after uprooted trees blocked roads. Officers were dispatched to several homes and businesses where carports, metal sheeting and roof tiles were uplifted and posed a danger to property owners and the general public. Off-duty Reaction Officers and RUSA Medics were called out to assist with the high volume of calls which were received. The RUSA helicopter was grounded for safety reasons and could not assist with any rescue operations during the storm,” said Balram.

Balram said the uprooted trees, believed to be commonly referred to as ‘Fever trees’ appeared to have shallow roots and were easily toppled in the gusty winds wreaking much havoc.

“Our primary concern was the safety of members of the public and pets. The forceful winds hit suddenly leaving many shocked and faced with unfathomable damage. Reaction Officers braved the perilous weather to lend assistance and risked life and limb to extend help to those in need.

Thankfully, there were no fatalities,” added Balram.
eThekwini Municipality Mayor Zandile Gumede has activated a joint response and relief disaster management following the damage caused by the winds. This follows an urgent meeting convened by Mayor Gumede on Sunday which comprised of the Ward Councillors, Provincial Disaster Management Team, Ward Committees, Community Mobilisers, Operation Sukuma Sakhe and Amakhosi to establish the extent of the damage caused by gale force winds and to speedily respond to each and every case that has been reported.
“Our joint response and relief team is already on the ground, the mop-up has already begun in areas where roads are blocked and displaced communities are being accommodated in community halls. I want to appeal to residents to be patient as we are responding to each and every case that has been reported thus far,” said Gumede.

Gumede further appealed to religious leaders and individuals to open their places of worship and homes in order to accommodate displaced people.
“We are doing our level best to find alternative accommodation for affected families and as a caring municipality, we call upon everyone to extend a hand and assist those who are in need. Our team that is on the ground will provide food, soup, and blankets for the affected people. Community halls and centers like crèches will also be used to accommodate the displaced people,” said Gumede.

Residents are urged to contact Disaster and Emergency Unit on 031 361 00 00 and the communities can also report incidents via a WhatsApp Number on 073 148 3477.
Democratic Liberal Congress (DLC) Leader Patrick Pillay said that the catastrophic gale force winds and heavy rains have caused tremendous damage to residential and business properties with many suburbs experiencing electricity outages.
“It was really sad to see people’s long life developments extensively damaged. People have lost a lot of their assets during this bad weather. Whilst I have received calls from the community of this unfortunate disaster, people who have damages to their properties may contact their private insurance companies for damage claims,” said Cllr Pillay.

He added, “The DLC will be urgently making representation to Parks and Gardens to reassess the type of trees they have in our suburb. It is apparent that tall trees with a shallow rooting system cannot withstand the very strong winds that results in major damages to vehicles and private property.”