The provincial government said in a tweet on Twitter that the tragedy represented “one of the darkest moments in the history” of KwaZulu-Natal province.
“We join families in mourning the lives we lost as a result of the torrential rains,” the government wrote. “We would like to commend the disaster management teams for the tireless work they are doing to evacuate the affected communities.”
A bridge near Durban was swept away, leaving people stranded on either side.
She added, “The heavy rains that fell on our land in the past few days have caused untold destruction and inflicted severe damage to lives and infrastructure.”
The flooding came as a result of the slow-moving storm Isa, which has dumped several months of rain in Durban and surrounding cities since Monday. As many as 450 mm (about 18 in) were recorded along the KwaZulu-Natal coast at that time. In Durban, it fell 307 mm (nearly 12 inches) in just 24 hours, which is more than four times the normal amount for the entire month of April.
After a short rain-free respite on Thursday, rain is set to return to the same areas on Friday and will continue through the weekend, as the cold front stops over the east of the country.
Sifu Hlumuka, a member of the Executive Board for Collaborative Governance and Traditional Affairs in KwaZulu-Natal, said on Twitter on Tuesday that teams worked to evacuate people in areas that experienced “mudslides, floods and structural collapses of buildings and roads”.
“Heavy rains affected the power lines in many municipalities, as technical teams are working around the clock to restore the electricity,” Hlomoka added.
The flooded power stations were inaccessible in the hard-hit I Thekwini municipality, Mayor Mxulisi Kaunda told reporters, while main water lines were damaged.
He said the local government had asked private and religious institutions to assist in emergency relief operations, and had asked for help from the South African National Defense Forces to provide air support.
The extreme weather comes just months after torrential rain and flooding hit other parts of South Africa, with three tropical cyclones and two tropical storms over the course of just six weeks from late January. 230 deaths were reported and 1 million people affected.
Scientists from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project — which analyzes the extent to which the climate crisis contributes to an extreme weather event — found that climate change made those events more likely.
“Once again we see how the people least responsible for climate change bear the brunt of the impacts,” WWA’s Frederic Otto, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said Tuesday, referring to the former. Storms in South Africa.
“Rich countries must honor their commitments, increase much-needed funding for adaptation, and compensate victims of extreme events caused by climate change with compensation for losses and damages,” she added.
This is expected to be a major sticking point in the upcoming international climate negotiations, the COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November.
Scientists have warned that the world should try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, some 200 years ago, to stave off some of the irreversible effects of climate change. Earth is already about 1.2 degrees warmer.
CNN’s Amy Cassidy, George Engels and Brandon Miller contributed to this story.
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