The “worst storm in living memory” began to unleash its fury on Cape Town early on Wednesday.
Roofs were blown off in Strand‚ Kalkfontein‚ Delft‚ Mfuleni and Mandalay‚ according to the City of Cape Town. Two people were injured when a roof blew off in Lavender Hill.
An uprooted tree landed on a block of flats in Plumstead‚ but no one was hurt. Other trees came down in Durbanville‚ Delft and Plattekloof.
The wind brought down electricity cables down in Athlone‚ Weltevreden Valley‚ Pelican Park‚ Schaapkraal‚ Goodwood‚ Boston and Parow Valley.
Emergency shelters were opened after roofs and shacks were blown away in Hout Bay’s Imizamo Yethu and Macassar Village.
Chapman’s Peak Drive between Noordhoek and Hout Bay was closed‚ there were reports of rockfalls on Clarence Drive between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els‚ and power failed at the Huguenot Tunnel‚ leading to a ban on heavy vehicles.
A police vehicle overturned on Jakes Gerwel Drive in Parow‚ and the railway line between Wellington and Bellville was closed by Transnet Freight Services‚ disrupting commuter trains. A bus shuttle operated between Worcester and Wellington.
Radio station Magic reported on Twitter: “This storm has affected the link between our studio and transmitter so we are not on MW 828 but we are streaming via http://www.magic828.co.za.”
Rain caused far fewer problems in the early hours‚ with falls of up to 26mm reported in some areas of the city and hardly any elsewhere. However‚ flooding closed the N2 in both directions near Plettenberg Bay.
All schools were closed in the Western Cape on Wednesday‚ and the province’s four universities — Cape Town‚ Western Cape‚ Stellenbosch and Cape Peninsula University of Technology — followed suit.
In a final warning on Tuesday night before the storm hit‚ Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said: “I urge Capetonians to remain calm and do all they can to keep safe.”
With hopes high that the storm will mark the beginning of the end of the worst drought in a century‚ De Lille urged Capetonians to harvest as much rainfall as possible.
“Use suitable containers to capture rainwater‚ which is perfect for flushing toilets as an example. Flushing the toilet with rainwater could save nine litres or more per flush‚ depending on the type of toilet‚” said the mayor.
On Tuesday‚ the air force and disaster management teams were put on standby as swells of up to 16 metres were predicted. Forecasters warned of gales exceeding 90km/h‚ at least 50mm of rain in 24 hours and “very high seas” as the storm surge coincided with spring tide.
South African Weather Service communications director Hannelee Doubell said people should not take the warnings lightly.
“Residents should make real preparations for the storm. They should be prepared to stay inside their homes. Outside they should tie down their belongings because we are expecting abnormally strong winds‚” she said.
The weather service issued warnings for several areas in the Western Cape including the winelands‚ the Cape metropole‚ and the Overberg‚ saying damaging winds‚ high seas and flooding could result in “loss of life”.
The City of Cape Town appealed to people on the Atlantic seaboard — probably the most expensive stretch of real estate on the continent — to take “special precautions to protect their properties”.
And it advised residents anywhere on the coast to consider moving their cars to higher ground. “It is key that the general public stays away from the coastal areas for their own safety‚” said Charlotte Powell of the council disaster management centre.
James-Brent Styan‚ spokesman for local government‚ environmental affairs and development planning MEC Anton Bredell‚ said the unprecedented move to close schools followed warnings “that this is going to be the worst storm we’ve had in 30 years”.
“We are afraid of situations where children are going to be caught in flash floods. We are worried about gale-force winds and about the rural areas‚ where mudslides and roads could be washed away.”
Styan said the South African Air Force was on high alert‚ even though helicopters might not be able to fly in the winds.
“We’ll see what the situation is. The problem is we have a very big province and we don’t know what’s going to happen where. If we need someone to get to Oudtshoorn very quickly you need a helicopter‚” said Styan.
The Western Cape disaster management operations centre put its specialised technical rescue team on standby last night to carry out water-related rescues.
A statement from the province added: “We strongly advise members of the public to stay off the roads and remain indoors. It is imperative that all measures are taken to avoid any harm or possible loss of life.