MOPPING up operations began in earnest around the Eastern Cape yesterday following heavy rains and snow, which had lashed the region since Friday.
While up to 200mm of rain fell in places along the coast, snowfalls inland saw roads closed, and winds of more than 60km/h and sea swells of more than 5m were reported.
Heavy snowfalls were recorded in the Southern Drakensberg, Sneeuberg, and Winterberg in the Eastern Cape, with lighter falls along the Kougaberg in the Western Cape. Despite the bitter weather, authorities reported that flood damage was minimal, although police said a fire in a George informal settlement, which killed two children, could be attributed to the cold snap.
Southern Cape police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said yesterday police had been called to the scene at 11pm on Saturday where they found a Thembalethu shack engulfed in flames.
"The fire brigade managed to extinguish the fire and found the bodies of the two children, who were later identified as Siyabonga Koopman, 4, and his sister Mandisa, 11,” Pojie said.
He said evidence suggested the stove might have caused the fire.
Pojie said the children’s mother had left them alone when she went out to fetch money.
"She found the shack in flames on her return.
"The possibility that she will be charged with child neglect is being considered,” Pojie said.
Nelson Mandela Bay municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said a team comprising disaster management and safety and security officials had been sent to assist about 300 residents affected by the heavy rain.
About 180 people had been evacuated from their shacks in the New Rest informal settlement near Greenbushes on Saturday.
At Airport Valley in Walmer, officials from the water and sanitation department pumped water out of 82 shacks, Baron said.
"Officials stepped in because residents refused to leave their shacks even though they were knee-deep in water.
"We further assisted more than 20 people in Missionvale.”
Officials were keeping a close eye on the situation last night.
Eastern Cape Disaster Rescue spokesman Captain John Fobian said the R58 Barkly Pass between Barkly East and Elliot had been closed due to snow.
"Despite the heavy rains, snow and gale-force winds, no search- and-rescue missions were conducted and no missing persons or fatalities were reported,” he said yesterday.
Farmers’ organisation AgriEC said despite the biting cold and snow, there had been no reports of stock losses.
"We haven’t experienced any flooding and thankfully haven’t received any reports of stock losses, although there has been some snow over the high ground,” AgriEC president Ernest Pringle said.
"The rain was much heavier around the coast and we only measured about 12mm to 13mm of rain in Bedford.”
The Animal Welfare Society in Victoria Drive, Walmer, was hard hit, though. Shelter manager Jerry Jones said they had experienced a lot of water build-up in the animal pens.
"We did not suffer any real damage, but we had to move the animals in places where the water rose up too high.”
SA Weather Service Port Elizabeth forecaster Tennielle Jacobs said the cold front that had swept across the country over the weekend officially signalled the start of winter.
Up to 200mm of rain was recorded in Nelson Mandela Bay’s Kabega area, with under 50mm recorded inland.
Aliwal North was the coldest town yesterday, according to the PE Weather Office, with a minimum temperature of -3°C. The lowest maximum temperature was Barkly East at 5°C.
Yesterday afternoon residents were still battling the cold.
In the Groot Kloof shack area in the Bay’s Malabar, 13 families were still reeling from the inclement weather.
Stephen Jafta said he had been keeping a fire going since the heavy downpours started on Saturday.
"The smoke is not good for my chest, because I suffer from asthma, but it’s the only way to keep warm. It is freezing cold,” he said.
Rochelle Campher said her shack was no match for the rain.
"Everything is still wet from yesterday [Saturday]. My children and I have been huddling together to stay warm,” she said.
In Missionvale Priscilla Desi, who was ankle-deep in water, had to use buckets to scoop the rising water from her shack.
"It is very cold during the day, but especially at night. I am fearful because the worst part of winter is yet to come,” Desi said.
Disaster was narrowly averted when a tree fell over the usually busy lanes of Target Kloof in Port Elizabeth at about 1am yesterday.
According to neighbours, emergency services arrived within minutes to cut up the tree and reopen the road.
Then yesterday afternoon in the city’s Theescombe area, a tree fell and crushed a stationary car.
Fortunately, the vehicle was unoccupied at the time.
Jacobs said mainly clear skies were expected today.
Tomorrow and on Wednesday, another cold front will brush the coast.
"The cold front will bring a 30% chance of rain and showers to coastal regions on Tuesday evening, continuing into Wednesday morning and clearing again on Thursday,” she said. Additional reporting by Neo Bodumela and Janine Oelofse