13 December 2017

South Africa: We Prayed and God Saved Us - Vaal Tornado Survivors

The only thing that kept the Nkuthas and Mtshalis alive after a tornado swept through Mamello on Monday evening was faith.

The narrow road to the informal, about 4km from Vaal Marina, runs through open fields populated by small trees.

On Tuesday, a fence lay ripped apart next to the road after the tornado tore through the settlement.

More than a thousand people were left homeless after strong winds and hail swept through the Vaal Dam area, blowing off roof tops, uprooting trees and destroying fences and walls.

At least 50 people were injured. No fatalities have been confirmed.

On Tuesday morning, the muddy roads in the informal settlement were lined with skinny cattle and debris.

Buckets in hand, locals flocked to a water tank, the only water supply they have after the disaster.

Red Ants, clad in their red overalls, started rebuilding the demolished shacks in the township on Tuesday morning.

'Unusual' winds

Meme Nkutha has been living in Mamello for almost 28 years.

She lives with her three children aged 14, 16 and 21 in a one-bedroom house with no fence around it.

The 46-year-old had just come back from work when the tornado hit.

Sitting on a red Coca-Cola crate she recalled the moments before the tornado ripped through the area.

Nkutha said first there were strong winds, which made several locals "nervous".

"When we looked at the wind, we realised that it was not the sort of wind that we were used to. I called the children into the house and then a tiny piece of hail hit the house, then suddenly there was one bigger and then another one bigger than that one," she said.

'Destroyed in seconds'

She said she and her three children watched as a neighbour's shack was lifted into air by the wind and thrown a few metres away.

Soon after that it suddenly went dark, she said.

"When we looked properly we saw that this was not rain. We didn't know what it was. I hid my children in the kitchen cupboard so they wouldn't die. Everything was destroyed in a few seconds.

"It is a painful thing because there was no way we could have prevented this," she said as she broke down and wiped her tears away.

"I thank God that we are all alive. No one of us died.

She lamented the destruction of property and the timing of the disaster.

"And the sad thing is that some people have already bought their Christmas food. There's nothing here and now we have to start over again."

Service delivery protests

Jonas Mtshali and his wife Sarah stood before their shattered shack on Tuesday.

Before the Red Ants arrived to help, Jonas had been sitting helplessly, gazing at the pile of debris.

The pair have been living in Mamello for almost 27 years.

Sarah told News24 the municipality had failed to deliver on its promises of providing housing.

"We've protested and shared our grievances but had police arrest us because of that. They would arrest and keep protesters for seven days in jail," she said.

Sarah, who said she never for once imagined that a tornado, something she's only ever seen on TV, would tear their small informal settlement apart, hid her two grandchildren between her legs and covered them with blankets.

"But by the grace of God we are alive. We survived. We prayed, my daughter Nono and I. We prayed, we cried, we prayed. The Father heard our prayers," she said.

They had no place to go and no food to eat on Monday.

They lost everything.

"Our furniture, television set, hi-fi and everything have been destroyed. All I can do now is sit and look at a place we used to call home."

The 'worst ever'

Patricia Neves, who lives in the Marina Letata estate close to the Vaal Dam, said her family was fortunate that they were not at the estate when the tornado hit the area. She said they had received the news from her brother-in-law from Portugal.

"Thank God we were not here."

She said only the roof of their home and the garage where their boat was stored had been destroyed.

Neves described the tornado as the "worst ever".

"Just walking and looking around you can see there are houses that are totally shattered and furniture that has been displaced, items destroyed. It is the worst we have seen and experienced ever," Neves said.

Source: News24

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