Counting the costs after a tornado ripped through Duduza settlement

تم النشر: 27 أكتوبر 2011 15:48 CET

By Tapiwa Gomo in Johannesburg

It is a normal sunny summer Sunday in Duduza settlement east of Johannesburg where people usually relax with their families as they prepare for the busy week ahead.

Like many others, Mary Lephoto, 47, decided to spend the remainder of her day after church playing with her two grandchildren.

“It was on the 2nd of October at about 6pm, when we heard the sound of stones falling on the roof of the house. I asked one of the boys to go and check if someone was throwing stones on the roof,” said Mary as she sits of the rubble of what used to be a home.

“Before the boy went out, the sound grew louder. I went out to check for myself. In the dark skies stood a snake-like gust of wind heading towards the settlement. And suddenly I dashed back to the house together with my grandchildren.

“When I thought I was out of danger, the door gave in allowing wind to rip off the walls of the house.”

From then, Mary cannot remember what transpired as she was unconscious when the walls of her house collapsed on her body.  “I think the boys rushed out of the house for safety,” she says.

One of the boys called neighbours to assist though he was also bleeding from injuries, while one of them tried to pull his grandmother from the rubble.

An ambulance took them to a local clinic where hundreds more lay injured.

In less than five minutes, the tornado had damaged over 600 houses, 150 of which were flattened to the ground. Approximately 2,700 people are now without homes. Mary, like many of the families whose homes were destroyed, had waited for over a decade to receive hers from the government, and so finds the loss hard to accept.

Mary and her grandchildren are among the thousands of people currently being fed by the South African Red Cross Society. The local municipality designated one of its multi-purpose community centres to the Red Cross to provide relief materials including food, first aid and counselling services.

“The Red Cross volunteers visited us when they were doing their assessment and they sent some of their volunteers to keep us company and offer counselling,” Mary says.

As the Duduza community grapples with recovery, the misconceptions about the tornado phenomena swirl. The majority of people in the community believe that the tornado was a result of witchcraft, while others think that it was actually a flying snake that resides in water. It is believed that the damage was caused because the tornado was migrating from a nearby dam to another.

This storm happened less than eight weeks before the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) convenes in Durban, South Africa to discuss climate-change issues and yet there is still limited knowledge of these issues at grassroots level.

“It is high time we intensified out efforts to improve local knowledge on climate change,” said Mbuso Mthembu, the South Africa Red Cross Society disaster management specialist. “The people on the ground are usually the most affected by effects of climate change such as tornadoes. The more knowledge they have, the better prepared they are, and it helps them build strong houses which will not be easily blown down by the wind.”