At least 443 people have died in floods that have devastated South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, according to an official, as rescuers searched for dozens of people still missing in the southeastern coastal region.
Sihle Zikalala, the province’s premier, said on Sunday that the dead included two emergency workers and added that a further 63 people remain unaccounted for.
The floodwaters are the strongest to have struck KwaZulu-Natal in recent memory and were triggered by torrential rains that lashed the province last week.
The deluge engulfed the region, smashing into the port city of Durban and surrounding areas, pulling with it buildings and people. Most of the casualties were in Durban, and parts of the city have been without water for days.
Scores of hospitals and more than 500 schools in the region have also been destroyed.
“The loss of life, destruction of homes, the damage to the physical infrastructure … make this natural disaster one of the worst ever in recorded history of our province,” Zikalala said.
In some of the worst-affected areas, some residents faced an agonising wait for the news of missing loved ones.
“We haven’t lost hope. Although we are constantly worried as (the) days continue,” said Sbongile Mjoka, a resident of Sunshine village in the eThekwini municipality whose eight-year-old nephew has been missing for days.
In a nearby semi-rural area, three members of the Sibiya family were killed when the walls of the room where they slept collapsed and four-year-old Bongeka Sibiya is still missing.
“Everything is a harsh reminder of what we lost, and not being able to find (Bongeka) is devastating because we can’t grieve or heal. At this stage, we are left feeling empty,” Lethiwe Sibiya, 33, told Reuters.
Amid the destruction, rising temperatures and an overcast sky, survivors sought divine solace and temporary distraction from their misery while observing Easter Sunday.
Thulisile Mkhabela went to church, at a large white concrete building with a tiled roof – one of a few solid structures left standing by the raging floods that engulfed her Inanda township.
She recalled watching her house gradually collapse under the weight of the waters six days ago. — Al Jazeera