JOHANNESBURG — The death toll from several days of grueling rain that soaked the city of Durban and surrounding areas near South Africa’s east coast rose to more than 250 on Wednesday as the country’s president visited the area to take stock of the devastation.
Although the rain in the region stopped on Tuesday, officials still tried to fully assess the huge toll on people and infrastructure as rescue teams swept through muddy hills in search of the missing.
The ongoing rain, sometimes coming down in great numbers, started late last week and continued almost non-stop into the weekend, washing away bridges, leaving gaps in roads and sweeping houses and shacks from their foundations. Parts of a state highway were flooded and resembled a river.
President Cyril Ramaphosa traveled to KwaZulu-Natal province, the area where the destruction took place, on Wednesday, where he met with provincial leaders and toured the affected regions.
“You have witnessed the greatest tragedy we have ever seen,” Mr Ramaphosa told residents of an affected community, according to the television news video of his visit.
Witnesses and rescuers gave harrowing stories of what happened as riverbanks overflowed and communities were submerged by muddy water.
Some residents took refuge on rooftops, waiting to be rescued. According to Bilall Jeewa of Gift of the Givers, a charitable organization, in Tongaat, 40 minutes north of Durban city centre, a woman driving home with two children was swept by a river that overflowed its banks.
Lynsey Chutel reporting contributed.