South Africans have been praying for rain in the country, especially for the Western Cape that is still experiencing the worst drought conditions in decades. Although rain is still needed, the extreme weather conditions that begun on Tuesday, 07 June 2017 brought destruction and devastation on the ground.
To this effect, the National Joint Operation Committee (NATJOC) was convened to monitor and deal with the situation in collaboration with all key stakeholders that include relevant national sector departments. Since its activation, the NATJOC continues to collaborate with the Provincial Joint Operation Committee (ProvJoC) in monitoring the situation in the Western Cape.
As per the warning of the South African Weather Services (SAWS), it was anticipated that there was going be significant rainfall and gale force winds in the Western Cape. Soon this extreme weather conditions were followed by the Knysna fires which were fuelled by the heavy storms and gale force winds.
With some parts of the Western Cape, particularly around the Cape Metropole, having being battered by heavy storms and rains, the situation on the ground remains dire with many community members negatively affected by this extreme weather conditions. Some communities in both formal and informal settlements have been displaced as their homes have been destroyed by strong winds. On the other hand, the Knysna wildfires have resulted in loss of lives, significant infrastructure damage including to houses, public infrastructure and the environment. About 10 000 people have been evacuated in Knysna and surrounding areas. Those that have been displaced are in need of humanitarian relief in the form of food parcels, hot meals, clothes and any other important things that might assist. Thus far, some volunteers have come forward and provided the much needed assistance.
Government appreciated the support provided by individuals, groups, civil society organisations including business to communities across the Western Cape Province during this difficult time. Minister also thanked the volunteers that risked their lives, complementing the capacity of current firefighters to fight the raging fires in an effort to save more lives.
The Community Work Programme of the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), has already deployed participants to assist with the clean-up operation in all the affected areas working with Municipalities and the Provincial Disaster Management team.
The assistance of security structures is important for us to be able to restore law and order, especially to areas where there are challenges of looting. The deployment of the Oryx Helicopters, water bunkers and firefighting resources by the SANDF are assisting to positively turn the tide for the entire operation.
On the other hand, teams of Technicians and Engineers are working around the clock to restore essential services such as electricity supply, telecommunications, water and other key necessities in an effort to bring life back to normalcy.
There are reports that some community members who were evacuated from the Knysna area have begun moving back to their homes. “We urge this community members to remain vigilant and be cautious when they move back to their houses as due to fires, storms and rain , some properties and infrastructure might be damaged, hence posing a risk to their lives”, said Minister.
The Minister also appealed to road users to avoid roads that are not safe and might lead to risk of injury or loss of life. He further urged communities affected by these challenging conditions, to cooperate with police and other emergency workers deployed in various areas.
The Minister extends condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones during these extreme conditions. “We believe that “one life lost, is one too many” and the pain of losing loved ones is immeasurable and devastating”, said Minister.
Minister van Rooyen also expressed shock at the passing of one of the fire fighters, Mr Bradley Richards. This selfless hero succumbed to the injuries he sustained whilst trying to save lives in Knysna area. Mr Richards served as a volunteer firefighter for the local Fire Protection Association and Bitou Fire Department. Sadly, another firefighter was also fighting for his life, with 50% burns and we wish him a speedy recovery. The Minister as the political head and custodian of the National Disaster Management Centre, thanked and salutes the selfless and dedicated servants who continue to risk their lives in an effort to save lives. These heroes have touched the lives of people in the most profound manner.
The SAWS has reported that whilst winds along the fire-affected Southern Cape region have been light to moderate north-easterly, coupled with mild temperatures and dry, rain-free conditions today (Friday, 09 June 2017), this is set to change markedly by tomorrow. A fresh approaching cold frontal system will make landfall during tomorrow (Saturday, 10 June 2017), bringing moderate falls (20-30mm) of rain to the Cape Peninsula and Boland, where localised flooding may occur here and there. Strong to gale-force northerly to north-westerly winds over the central interior of the country tomorrow are expected to contribute to a sharp (but temporary) peak in the risk of runaway fires along the fire-affected coastal region, including the adjacent Outeniqua and Swartberg mountains. Along the coast, the region between Stilbaai and East London is particularly identified as being at risk from fresh breakouts of fires.
By Saturday (10 June 2017) early evening, the wind is expected to moderate significantly. The good news is that by Sunday (11 June 2017), this fire risk will have subsided dramatically, coinciding with a shift to a moderate to fresh westerly to south-westerly wind. Although some light showers may persist over the south-western Cape on Sunday, no rain is expected along the Cape south coast.
Even though we are confident that the situation will continue changing to the better, we appeal to those who are able to provide more assistance to do so in the spirit of Ubuntu, since the effects and impacts of extreme weather remains significant.
Cell: 083 378 9495