Much-needed rainfall puts lives in greater danger

MBOMBELA – The weekend’s rainfall has increased dam levels and filled rivers, but the drought is far from over. Authorities also remain concerned about the potential hazard of flash floods in the area.

According to Mr Sipho Magagula, spokesman for the Inkomati-Usuthu Water Management Area (IUCMA), low-lying areas like Nkomazi and Bushbuckridge are at particular risk.

In terms of the Crocodile catchment, the drought will continue to persist as a result of the small catchment upstream of Kwena Dam which has increased in volume to only 35 per cent,” he said.

There may be no imminent weather warnings in effect at present, but provincial disaster management has also warned that the situation could change at any moment.

Also read: Mpumalanga flood alert: Courageous firefighter swept away during flood

Mr Jacques Benade of provincial disaster management, said people living near rivers in downstream areas should take precautionary measures as the erratic weather conditions are likely to continue.

“In the long term, we are expecting more heavy rain and we urge people to be safe. It’s the age-old saying of you need one millimetre of rain and your car is off the road.

If you can’t see the road, don’t drive on it. Don’t even walk on it, for that matter. We really don’t need any more unnecessary loss of life,” Benade said.

Blyde River (Medium)

Blyderivierpoort Dam. Photo: Tom van der Meulen

On Friday night a warning was issued by the South African Weather Service (SAWS) that heavy rain leading to localised and flash flooding was expected in several areas of Mpumalanga.

A junior firefighter from Thembisile Hani, Mr Jerry Mogowe (28), drowned on Saturday while attempting to save the life of a passenger trapped in a taxi on a flooded low-water bridge close to Kwaggafontein in northern Mpumalanga. Both he and the passenger drowned.

Meanwhile, last weekend’s rainfall was welcomed in the region with all dam volumes increasing. According to Magagula, the catchment received widespread rainfall over the past weekend.

“Most of the rainfall was received in the Sabie Sand catchment. Flash floods occurred in the Sabie and Sand rivers, inside and outside the Kruger National Park (KNP). The flow of the Sabie River at Lower Sabie (KNP) reached 500 cubic metres per second on Saturday morning. The flow of the Crocodile River at Tenbosch reached 135 cubic metres per second,” Magagula said.

He added that Graskop in the Sabie catchment received 155 millimetres over the weekend, Sudwalaskraal in the Crocodile catchment area received 85 millimetres and Da Gama Dam in the Sabie catchment received 135 millimetres.

“The weekend’s rainfall will make a big impact in the Sabie Sand catchment. Inyaka Dam’s volume increased by six per cent. The dam increased from 54 per cent to 60 per cent in the last 48 hours since January 7.”

Also read: Rainfall boosts dam levels; another flood warning

However, he emphasised that all previously imposed water restrictions were still in place, and “will be reviewed once there is sufficient water availability in the dams,” he said.

These include the 20 and 60 per cent restrictions on domestic and irrigation use respectively from the Crocodile River, as well as the 20 and 40 percent domestic and irrigation uses respectively from the Sabie and Sand rivers.

With regard to the risk of flash floods, Magagula said it is imperative that the storm-water management infrastructure is maintained by municipalities so that the volume of water can have room to “flow through the system and reach where it is needed”.

Mr William Mabasa, acting head of communication of SANParks, said the long-term impact of rainfall in the KNP can only be accurately measured at the end of the rainy season.

“For now, we appreciate the wonderful rain the park received over the weekend. It is good for grazing as it will help the grass grow,” Mabasa said.

Access to gravel roads was blocked in the south of the KNP on Saturday due to the wet conditions. Mabasa confirmed that the park’s technical services team was sent to inspect the conditions of the roads yesterday.

He added that visitors to the Kruger should always check at reception whether the roads they intend to use are accessible.

“People should also avoid trying to cross bridges which are under water.”

According to Benade, disaster management has not received any reports of damage to infrastructure and all rivers remained within their banks, mostly because the levels were so low due to the drought. He confirmed that movement across some low-water bridges, like Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge, was restricted as a precautionary measure.

The rain is helping us a bit but we are a far cry away from the end of the drought,” Benade added.

Mr Wayne Venter, forecaster at SAWS, said there are no flood warnings out for the Lowveld region for the next week.
“In fact, rainfall wise, it’s not looking too good for this week. The area will experience temperatures from the high 20s to low 30s for the first half of the week and then temperatures look set to drop from Wednesday,” said Venter.

Also read: Water storage improving, but drought still a great concern

Philippa Francis

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