Wednesday 13 December 2017

10,000 evacuated as deadly fires engulf South African town

Houses burn in the coastal town of Plettenburg Bay (Ewald Stander/AP)
Houses burn in the coastal town of Plettenburg Bay (Ewald Stander/AP)

Fires fanned by high winds have swept through a scenic coastal town in South Africa, killing four people, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of up to 10,000 people, authorities and media reports said.

A four-year-old girl was found dead by her father on Thursday morning in Knysna, a tourist destination on the popular Garden Route that runs along the southern coast, the Knysna-Plett Herald newspaper reported.

Three other people died in a fire in the area on Wednesday after a storm hit the region around Cape Town, battering shores with big waves and dumping heavy rains that caused flooding in some communities.

A total of nine deaths in the region have been attributed to the storm.

Flames engulfed dozens of homes in Knysna and led to the temporary closure of a stretch of coastal highway.

By Thursday, some rain had fallen and the situation had improved; disaster management officials sought to provide aid to residents who had fled their homes.

However, strong winds and billowing smoke made it hard for emergency responders to use helicopters, the African News Agency reported.

"According to a reporter on the scene, it makes for a very eerie image as most of the houses that have burnt down are surrounded by properties that remained untouched by the flames," the Knysna-Plett Herald reported.

Patients who were evacuated from the provincial hospital in Knysna were being cared for in the squash courts, clubhouse and other facilities of a sports complex, according to the newspaper.

Fires also gutted some homes at Plettenberg Bay, east of Knysna.

In Cape Town, about 830 makeshift homes belonging to poor residents were flooded or had their roofs blown off, according to city authorities.

Power cuts were reported across the area.

"It is mostly the poorest sections of our society that usually bear the brunt of natural calamities, such as severe weather conditions, due to the conditions under which they live," South Africa's parliament said in a statement.

While Cape Town and surrounding areas have been suffering a severe drought, the rain was not expected to bring long-lasting relief.


Press Association

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