15 June 2017

South Africa: Knysna Still On Edge As Wind Continues

A spotter plane was keeping an eye on Knysna and surrounds on Thursday in case increasing winds start another inferno.

Swathes of Knysna and the villages and towns around it, as far as Plettenberg Bay, were gutted by at least 22 fires along the popular garden route from Tuesday, June 7.

Seven people died as a result of the fires and more than 10 000 were evacuated as hundreds of homes were burnt down.

President Jacob Zuma joined Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on a tour of some of the devastation on Thursday.

At a special council sitting earlier, the mayor of Knysna, Eleanore Bouw-Spies acknowledged the severe psychological impact of the fire, let alone the threat to the jobs of at least 2 500 people in the popular tourist and artists' haven.

Emotional support

She announced that counsellors would be at the town's library to offer emotional support to people who had to run for their lives, and lost all their possessions and shelter.

"The scale of the devastation, and its impact on people, many of whom are young children or elderly, has affected the whole town," said Spies.

"Expert counselling will be required, in varying degrees, for those directly affected by tragic loss as well as those who witnessed the ravages of the fire.

"The ability for Knysna to rebuild the town as a tourist destination with a thriving community will depend on how well those living in the town overcome their shared experience and trauma."

The Western Province legislature has set aside R75m toward rebuilding and recovery, and private fund raising continues with donations in cash and kind still pouring in.

Spies said the town will start with cleaning up and will then move to reconstruction and replacing and upgrading damaged and destroyed infrastructure, using the labour and services of locals.

"Today we put structures in place to ensure the Knysna disaster fund is managed against clear objectives, with transparency and strict accountability," said Spies.

Many people will need help getting back on their feet, and authorities will also have to assess the impact on farming, livestock, wildlife and household pets.

Spies explained that the drought, the shortage of water and the proliferation of alien vegetation made the fire even more devastating.

Alien vegetation that seeds after the fire will have to be removed and experts need to be on the lookout for mudslides caused by the denuded hillsides and dunes.

In the meantime, many people are still depending on others for clothing and shelter, and a massive humanitarian operation is working toward alleviating their plight.

Weather predictions indicated that the wind would pick up so in addition to the spotter plane, fire-fighters and four helicopters were also on standby.

Source: News24

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