A SCHAUDERVILLE family was lucky to escape unharmed after a bolt of lightning struck their home, causing thousands of rands' worth of damage to the property and electrical appliances.
Homeowner Laverthon Andrews and other residents now believe the newly built South African Police Service 10111 call centre tower is to blame and reflected the lightning into the home, causing a fire.
However, Port Elizabeth Weather Office spokesman Garth Sampson said it was unlikely the tower was to blame. Several other homes in Port Elizabeth were also struck, he said.
Andrews said yesterday he was still trying to come to terms with the damage to his home, which would cost R350000 to R400000 to repair.
He said he was not insured.
"Most of my appliances blew. There is smoke damage and water damage from the fire brigade. I am still paying off the brand new beds that were destroyed in the fire upstairs."
He had approached a lawyer for assistance and said this lawyer would consult an independent scientist to confirm the cause of the damage.
Andrews said he was sleeping downstairs with his girlfriend and their five-month-old baby on Monday night when he was woken by the flashes of lightning through his window.
"I heard a very loud bang and rushed to protect the baby. I heard the windows cracking upstairs and grabbed some belongings and put my girlfriend and baby in the bakkie and took them to my neighbours.
We called 10111 and they responded within 15 minutes. But I could already smell the smoke coming from upstairs," he said.
Glen Harmse, of the Schauder Korsten Action Committee, said residents living near the call centre wanted it to be decommissioned as they believed they were in danger.
"We believe that this will cause tumours, memory loss, a low sperm count and a lot of other problems. We have been fighting for this to be decommissioned for a while now but no one will listen."
Harmse said residents were left out of the consultation process and feared the tower could emit radioactive emissions.
They also claim the signal wreaks havoc with their TV and cellphone signals.
Ward councillor Isaac Adams said: "The call centre was initially based in Mount Road and those residents did not have any adverse effects. The centre is not yet completed and the equipment still needs to be installed so it is not possible it is the cause of the damage. Someone is misleading the public."
Provincial police spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Sibongile Soci said an environmental impact assessment was done before the building was constructed and consultations were done with the community close to the tower.
Sampson said a home in Westering had its chimney struck by lightning and one in Brymore had all its electrical goods damaged.
A streetlight was knocked over in Westering and a light pylon was hit at St George's Park cricket ground.
Sampson said the SAPS tower was made of metal, so it would have been hit before a brick structure. Also, there was a light pole right next to the house.