Living in Durban has its advantages, golden beaches, good all-year weather and we always seem to be on holiday to the rest of South Africa. I moved down to Durban in ‘93. I think that one of the first differences I’d noticed was that there were very few lightning storms (yeah, I’m afraid of lightning) … so I was happy to move. I loved the spring and early summer rains. Durban’s rainy season is late November extending into January. For the rest of the year we would have the odd rains, just what the thirsty earth needed …
Each year I have noticed that our electrical storms are becoming more frequent (our swimming pool pump has even been struck by lightning) … but I’ve also noticed that the intensity and frequency of our rain showers have become less predictable. Easter 2019 was a perfect example.
Greenpeace Durban held an induction for new volunteers on the weekend of 20 & 21 April in Chatsworth. August our Mobilisation Officer was in Durban to oversee the process. On the morning of the 21st (Sunday) the weather had started to change, the smell of rain was in the air … but it’s April, so in my mind it was no different than any other rain shower. The build up of rain clouds developed quickly and soon thereafter the rain began to fall, gently at first, but then it began to come down harder. We rushed up the induction and allowed August to leave first, as he had a flight to catch and the rain was coming down hard. By the time I left, small rivers seemed to have developed alongside the road, some places a little bigger than others. Several rivers had now become deep puddles as drainage wasn’t able to swallow the large quantities of rain gushing towards them. Some puddles were the size of swimming pools and at least half a tyre deep. With the trauma of negotiating rain rivers and puddles behind me, I finally arrived home. At least the storm would soon be over and I was in the safety of my home. Well so I thought.
The next few hours seemed to drag on forever, surely this rain has to stop … It’s not the rainy season yet? I decided to ignore the odd roof leak in the lounge and went to bed; I’ll deal with the mess when I wake up and the rain has stopped. Great plan! When I woke up Monday morning the lounge was flooded and I had a river running down my stairs and into the kitchen. In fact, the rain had not stopped and it had continued its onslaught. Only once the radio was switched on was I aware of the devastation that had been happening around me. Durban was flooding!
Our Durban volunteers reached out to each other to find out if we were all okay and if anyone needed help or assistance. We were fortunate, we were all okay. It was only once images of the devastating flood damage became available, that I realized the severity of the rain, large scale flooding, rivers and dams breaking their banks, landslides, collapsed buildings, homes, cars, humans and animals being swept away. The true horror of these unexpected floods only sunk in once I saw it in photos. In fact, these floods brought the eThekwini region to its knees … it continued to rain. Our first break came on the 23 (2 days after the rain had started) when the rain began to let up. and the odd patch of blue sky appeared.
Although the blue sky brought some joy it also brought with it deep sadness, so many lives were lost, so much destruction … so many unanswered questions … Why now? It’s not even the rainy season??
Our City’s face changed forever with missing houses or buildings. Hundreds of millions lost in infrastructural damage. Our beaches and rivers polluted with every bit of trash that could be carried with the rain, but the loss of life, those 80 souls were the most difficult to accept.
Desiree Laverne is a Greenpeace Africa Volunteer based in Durban, South Africa.