The weather event started 11 April when more than 300 mm of rainfall was recorded in 24 hours. Some reports suggest this is equal to about 75 percent of South Africa’s annual precipitation.
The ensuing floods and mudslides left thousands of people homeless, and knocked out power and water services, as they destroyed scores of hospitals and hundreds of schools in the region. Floods have also disrupted operations in the coastal port of Durban, one of Africa’s busiest.
“It’s a tragedy of overwhelming proportions—hundreds have died, thousands of homes destroyed and probably tens of thousands displaced,” Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town said on 16 April after visiting the flood-stricken region, appealing for support and prayers.
Earlier in a 14 April statement, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said: “The devastation we have seen – the destruction of homes, schools and churches and the loss of lives – brings us to our knees as we pray for the safety of the people of KwaZulu Natal.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa has since declared the floods in the province a national state of disaster. This will allow the freeing of more resources to boost government capability and technical expertise in providing relief.
The announcement came as rescue teams continued to search for 63 people, who were reportedly swept away by flooded rivers and mudslides.
Officials say nearly 4,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 8,000 damaged – most of them in Durban City.
On the ground, the church has actively been responding to the loss of life, property and the devastation caused by the floods. The KwaZulu Natal Christian Council, the provincial chapter of the South African Council of Churches and the KwaZulu Natal Church Leaders Group together with regional ecumenical offices in the province, have partnered with other organizations such as the Red Cross to provide disaster relief.
At the beginning more than 1,600 households had been identified for the response, with the numbers expected to rise as churches give more reports.
Dr Douglas Diva, chief executive officer of the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council, said the organization had requested the clergy in the affected areas and across the province to voluntarily participate in pastoral visits to comfort and offer counselling to families and individuals affected by the floods.
“We are also requesting church-based activists and clergy to come and volunteer in distributing food parcels and blankets to affected families and individuals,” said Diva in a South African Council of Churches statement.
Experts say climate change is inducing such extreme situations as it alters the weather patterns.