Lindelani (Reuters) – Bonakele Mtshali was away at a funeral when flash floods on South Africa’s east coast swept her iron-roof shack off the hillside in Lindelani township, taking two of her girls with it.
She had been searching with a growing sense of foreboding since Monday’s disaster. Then her elder son, Zamani, 23, got a call on Thursday from some other townspeople who had discovered a body by the river. It was Baphiwe, her 17-year-old.
Mtshali’s daughter was one of about 400 people, possibly more, killed in extremely powerful rains that battered the coast, leaving about 13,600 people homeless and numerous families in mourning for lost relatives.
There is no sign of Mtshali’s 11-year-old daughter, Ntwenhle. She has lost hope of finding her alive in her township by a river on the outskirts of Durban, the port city at the epicentre of the floods that have upended the lives of 40,000 people.
“I feel numb, blank and still empty,” she told Reuters at the wreckage of her home which had collapsed into a pile of rubble falling into a gash in the earth.
“There is nothing I can do except to keep looking for my youngest so that they can both be buried together. I don’t think I can recover,” she said, staring wistfully into the distance. “The loss is too deep.”
South Africans were still searching for survivors on Friday, and the government has mobilised emergency funds to bring relief to the thousands without shelter, power or water – a tragedy experts say will become more common as the climate warms.
Others simply sought closure by finding the dead.
“The body was naked and covered in sand. But I could see that it was my sister,” security guard Zamani said of his sibling, a promising student who dreamt of being a scientist.
“I covered her body, and took her away.”
At the Gandhi settlement, also near Durban, where mud-hewn houses were left in ruins and many had nowhere to sleep, Nokwakha Nonketha, 48, was looking for her nephew Sivela, 32, missing since Tuesday night. She said they had had to search alone, as no authorities had arrived to help them.
“We haven’t stopped digging. We will dig until we find him,” she said “We can’t officially grieve until we find his body.”