Forest / Wild Fire in South Africa on June 08 2017 07:18 AM (UTC).
Fires fanned by high winds have swept through a scenic coastal town in South Africa, killing four people, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of up to 10,000 people, authorities and media reports said Thursday. A 4-year-old girl was found dead by her father on Thursday morning in Knysna, a tourist destination on the popular Garden Route that runs along the southern coast, the Knysna-Plett Herald newspaper reported. Three other people died in a fire in the area on Wednesday after a storm hit the region around Cape Town, battering shores with big waves and dumping heavy rains that caused flooding in some communities. A total of nine deaths in the region have been attributed to the storm. Flames engulfed dozens of homes in Knysna and led to the temporary closure of a stretch of coastal highway. By Thursday, some rain had fallen and the situation had improved; disaster management officials sought to provide aid to residents who had fled their homes. However, strong winds and billowing smoke made it hard for emergency responders to use helicopters, the African News Agency reported. "According to a reporter on the scene, it makes for a very eerie image as most of the houses that have burnt down are surrounded by properties that remained untouched by the flames," the Knysna-Plett Herald reported. Patients who were evacuated from the provincial hospital in Knysna were being cared for in the squash courts, clubhouse and other facilities of a sports complex, according to the newspaper. Fires also gutted some homes at Plettenberg Bay, east of Knysna. In Cape Town, about 830 makeshift homes belonging to poor residents were flooded or had their roofs blown off, according to city authorities. Power cuts were reported across the area. "It is mostly the poorest sections of our society that usually bear the brunt of natural calamities, such as severe weather conditions, due to the conditions under which they live," South Africa's parliament said in a statement. While Cape Town and surrounding areas have been suffering a severe drought, the rain was not expected to bring long-lasting relief.
"We have lost nearly 250 structures in Knysna and evacuated between 7,000-8,000 people," Colin Deiner, chief director of the Disaster Management center, told reporters about the resort town of some 77,000. He said it was unclear how the fires started in the popular tourist town, known for its coastal scenery and oysters. However, experts believe the blaze was caused by strong winds caused by the ongoing storm in Cape Town, 500 kilometers west. A strong storm hit parts of the southern Cape Peninsula on Tuesday night, destroying homes and breaking trees. Late Tuesday South Africa's weather service had forecast hail, snowfall and gale-force winds exceeding 90 kilometers an hour in parts of the Western Cape Province. The cold weather is expected to continue throughout the week, according to the weather service, but the storm will subside by Friday evening. Bongikosi Madikizela, Western Cape's Human Settlements Minister, said thousands of displaced people were being housed in community centers. "We will make sure all those displaced are resettled properly after the storm," he told reporters.