Johannesburg, South Africa — The death toll from flooding caused by days of torrential rain along South Africa’s east coast has risen to more than 300. President Cyril Ramaphosa faced scenes of utter devastation on Wednesday as he was visiting Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where search teams continued to find more bodies of victims amid the wreckage.
Addressing devastated local families who have lost loved ones and their homes, the president called it “a disaster of enormous proportions” and vowed his government would “act with haste” to help those affected.
Ramaphosa met Nonkululeko Mdlalose, who held back tears as she told the president he had lost 10 family members who were sleeping when floods hit their home at 11 p.m. Monday.
The president assured Mdlalose that financial aid would arrive as the province would be officially declared a disaster area.
Some areas saw six months of rain in a single day, with more than a foot falling in some places during three days of downpours. South Africa’s national meteorological service said the province had experienced its biggest one-day downpour in more than 60 years.
Aerial video showed hills and houses washed away and buildings and other infrastructure destroyed. Communications with the area were down with two major cellular networks indicating that 900 of their cell towers were down.
Flooding began earlier this week, causing landslides that buried or washed away homes, collapsed bridges and blocked major roads. The Port of Durban was flooded, shipping containers washed away and destroyed.
Emergency services were still unable to access some of the more remote areas on Thursday, leaving residents to try to dig out neighbors trapped by landslides under the mud and rubble themselves. Police vehicles were seen picking up dead bodies and transporting them to local police stations.
Blocked roads, downed power lines and drinking water shortages fueled residents’ concerns. The provincial government estimated that more than $100 million in damage was caused to property and infrastructure in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The National Institute for Sea Rescue said it had launched its biggest mass rescue operation in years in response to the disaster, with hundreds of rescues carried out.
More rain was forecast over the Easter weekend and with the ground already saturated, rescuers and locals feared more flooding and landslides in the coming days.
Scientists haveand more precipitation in the region. The South African Meteorological Service has called on the public to be vigilant.