A sound like pebbles pelting the windows jolts Zamani awake. He is at his girlfriend’s flat in BB Section in Umlazi, visiting her for Easter weekend. He jumps out of bed, runs to the window and pulls the curtain to the side. It is not pebbles striking the window panes but fat, ferocious raindrops. He has never seen rain falling this hard and loud. It’s like a curtain of white water is outside the window. His girlfriend, Khanyi, fearfully wraps her arms around his waist from behind.
“Dear God!” says Khanyi. “I’ve never heard rain sound this violent before.”
“There is zero visibility,” says Zamani. “No-one can drive in this weather.”
The skies don’t wait for Zamani to finish his sentence before letting down even more rain accompanied by howling winds. Zamani and Khanyi retreat to the couch. The messages on all their social media platforms rain down like the torrent outside. They open them.
“Babe, most of the roads in Durban are flooded,” says Khanyi, shifting uncomfortably on the couch.
“This is real bad,” says Zamani.
“I’ve got friends in Joburg asking me if I’m safe!” says Khanyi.
“Same with my friends,” says Zamani. “They say Durban is flooded.”
Khanyi switches on the television but the screen is blank. The DSTV is down – the signal blocked by a gigantic cloud over Durban and surrounding areas.
“Just look at this, Babe,” says Zamani, showing Khanyi a message on his cellphone. “I’m getting messages of severe weather warnings. What use are these warnings when the storm has already arrived? People should have received these messages yesterday!”
“A few friends have sent videos of the floods!” says Khanyi.
They watch on Khanyi’s tablet. In one video it is still dark, and a raging river is lit by the torch of a cellphone. Zamani and Khanyi hardly speak. They are shocked by the speed at which the river flows. They both gasp when they see the roof of a house, intact, floating in the river.
Another video sends so much shock through their bodies that they grab on to each other. In early morning light a taxi is wedged sideways between a large rock and what looks like the remnants of a road. The water is rising, the taxi will be washed away any moment! People on the side of the road throw a rope for passengers stuck inside the taxi. One person grabs the rope and is pulled out to safety. Then a second and a third. There is a loud creak as the taxi shifts. People inside the taxi scream. People on the side of the road wail. The person taking the video has the decency to stop filming as a wall of water washes the taxi away.
In another video a container ship floats sideways, crashing into smaller boats. It looks surreal: the storm buffets the large container ship as if it were a toy boat in a bathtub.
But a video that hits closest to home is of a house in H Section that is washed away as if it were built with paper.
“I was in H section a few days ago!” Zamani shouts. He stands up, his head in his hands. “We were there for a site meeting for the construction of low cost houses!”
Khanyi sniffles, wiping away tears.
“Dear God! I just wonder what is happening in Power. That whole neighbourhood must be gone!” says Zamani.
“Don’t say that! I have friends in Power,” says Khanyi, tears falling freely down her cheeks.
Zamani sits next to her on the couch, comforting her.
“I’m only saying that because I witnessed the shoddy workmanship of those houses. Plus the weak water management in that neighbourhood cannot withstand this storm,” says Zamani.
“My friend has just sent a message saying they have been moved out of Power.”
“Good,” says Zamani. “I hope they moved everyone out of there.”
They snuggle together on the couch, watching the devastation of the city and surrounding areas unfolding on Khanyi’s tablet, waiting out the storm.
Tell us: This story highlights how important it is to plan cities with proper infrastructure and sanitation, and how important jobs like civil engineering, urban planning and building inspection are. There is a shortage of skilled people in these fields. Are you interested in them now?