KWAZULU NATAL, South Africa – Hundreds of community members of eMpolweni, between New Hanover and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, have been left destitute.
Homes, churches and schools were destroyed in a tornado which swept through their settlement, claiming the lives of two people, injuring dozens and killing many animals.
For 13-year-old Bandile Xulu it was a moment of life and death – and despite being dazed and confused about what was going on, he only had one thing on his mind: getting his younger sister to safety.
Bandile said he had been at his grandmother’s home with his eight-year-old sister, Asanda, while their mother had gone to visit their grandmother in hospital.
He had no idea what a tornado was, and the moment it touched down in the area, he knew something was wrong.
“First when I looked out the window I saw the neighbours’ roof tiles coming off and I was very scared. Then the trees went down and our roof tiles started to shake.”
He said it was at this point that Asanda began to cry.
“The roof started to fall but I saved my sister and we ran to the neighbour’s house where we slept – I was scared because I thought my sister was going to die.”
Bandile’s heroic efforts were overshadowed by a blanket of despair that covered the landscape of eMpolweni.
People have been left without shelter, food and several thousand were still without electricity by Wednesday afternoon.
The storm and subsequent tornado, which also affected Eskom’s Mersey substation, cut off power to 15,000 customers, Eskom said on Wednesday.
In an update issued on Wednesday afternoon, the power utility said 3,906 customers in eMpolweni remained without power because of the damage to infrastructure.
“These customers are fed through the structures and lines that are down, so restoration will take longer than usual as we need to ensure that the lines are safe before we restore power to them.”
Eskom urged people to stay away from low-hanging conductors and fallen structures.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid group Gift of the Givers has joined relief efforts in the area. Founder Imtiaz Sooliman said teams were on site at New Hanover, while warehouse staff were putting together an aid package.
He said building materials, clothing, blankets, food parcels, bottled water, stationery, diapers, hygiene and sanitary pads were all essential components of the intervention package.
WATCH video below: Warning: This video contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing.
For details on donations call Hlengiwe Mkhwanyana on 066 040 0649.