By Kyle Robinson and Brad Janssen
The tornado that ripped through Grahamstown on Wednesday 8 October damaged and destroyed an estimated 189 houses, leaving many people homeless or without adequate shelter. Efforts by the Makana Municpality and other local charity organisations have tried to provide aid to the victims, but many residents are still living in dire conditions. In total, five main areas were affected in the North Eastern part of Grahamstown: the township Scott’s Farm, Tantyi, Vukani Location, Hlalani Location, and Kingswood area. A Fire and Rescue Services Provisional Assessment Report stated that residents of Scott’s Farm, were most severely affected, with over 204 cases reported. 15 people were injured in the storm.
In the immediate hours of the aftermath of the storm the Makana Municipality, together with the South African Police Department, Fire and Rescue Services, and Cacadu Disaster Management set up the Joint Operation Centre (JOC). The municipality Media and Communications Officer, Thandy Matebese, said JOC would see to the distribution of food parcels and blankets. He said that JOC was “a place where you coordinate donations for the individuals and families”. The Station Commander of the Fire Department, Vuyokazi Sam, who headed JOC, said that these donations came from social development Non-Government Organisations such as the Red Cross, as well as local businessmen and families. JOC closed operation on the Friday of the week of the tornado.
The Makana Municipality also assisted in the distribution of damp cous (black sheets of plastic). They supplied four trucks to assist with the relocation of the victims’ furniture to protected areas. Blankets, food and mattresses were handed out and community halls were made available for temporary shelter “but most people opted to stay with friends and family,” said Matebese.
The Integrated Community Development Programme (ICDP) acting as an NGO in partnership with Kingswood College, set up a programme to provide supplies for affected families in the nearby communities, especially Scott’s Farm. ICDP is collecting donations from Kingswood College parents, as well as from any other donors such as PG Glass, who supplied blankets. The Project Manager, Veronica Moodley, said that “as long as people are giving we will be giving”.
Despite all these efforts, many residents with damage to their houses have received very little aid. Most of the residents interviewed in Scott’s Farm, one of the worst affected areas, said that except for a food parcel or one or two blankets, they have received virtually nothing. “They promised us [more supplies], but they only bring us damp cous,” said Mary Jacobs, a resident who had parts of her roof blown off. The family of eight received only two blankets. All of them are forced to sleep in a single room under an unsteady roof. “If another thing happens, like if it rains hard, this whole thing is going to collapse, and the children sleep here,” said Jacobs.
The damaged roofs mean that many families have to deal with water seeping through and destroying possessions. Nico Roberts said the rain has broken his TV, and makes everything wet. Roberts also says that he has no dry clothes or bedding. “I try to ask anybody to help me with clothes,” he says. Gavin Herber added that just after he spent R2500 on a stove, the rain from the storm destroyed it. “It’s just too expensive,” he says. “I don’t have blankets to sleep in my house either. I’m the loser now.”
The most damaged house in the area was that of Ingrid Abdul. Her family of 11 was forced to move out and stay with relatives. Just ten days later a relative lent her a caravan, but this only sleeps four or five. “I’m desperate now,” she says.
All that these residents can do now is to wait until the municipality rebuilds their houses. Matebese said that the municipality can only begin doing this when an assessment carried out by the Housing Department of Bisho determines that the storm was a “disaster”. This assessment is still yet to take place, although Matebese believes they will get the go-ahead to begin rebuilding. “Tornados usually mean the Department calls it a disaster,” he said.
According to Dr Des Pyle, who wrote his PhD thesis on storms in the Eastern Cape, the municipality is correct not to call it a disaster yet until all criteria have been fulfilled. According to the South African weather service the tornado was classified as F0 to a F1 in strength. “This is not catastrophic but can cause considerable damage,” said Pyle.