Accessibility links

South Africa Hit with Severe Winter Weather - 2002-07-23

South African authorities are scrambling to help people stranded by the country's most severe winter weather in years. Parts of one province have been declared a disaster area after heavy snowfall last week. At least 22 people have died of exposure or weather-related accidents.

At least four people have frozen to death since a bitter cold spell descended on South Africa last week. More people have died in flooding or when the shacks they lived in collapsed under the weight of snow on the roof.

The snow started falling in the Eastern Cape province on Wednesday of last week. The bad weather continued through Sunday, burying much of the region in snow up to one meter deep. Local residents say they have not seen anything like it since 1964.

The weather began warming up Monday, but that only prompted warnings about possible floods as the snow begins to melt. And the South African Weather Service is predicting another cold snap will hit the region Thursday.

Hundreds of people were stranded when roads disappeared under ice and snow - some were stuck in their homes, others in vacation spots, including a ski resort. Scores of people have already been rescued by helicopter, but officials say hundreds more are still essentially cut off from the rest of the world.

The government says it is a race against time to reach the stranded people before the weather turns bad again.

Senior government officials Tuesday have made a trip to the Eastern Cape to assess the worst-hit areas and figure out how to help. Several parts of the province were declared a disaster area Monday.

The government says three-quarters of the buildings in the town of Elliot were damaged by the snow.

Nationwide, damage from the winter storm is estimated at roughly $2 million, not including livestock loss. In farming districts, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is mounting a rescue operation aimed at saving the lives of sheep, horses and cows trapped in snowdrifts, far from shelter. But farmers say they fear many of their animals will not survive.

In the neighboring country of Lesotho, reports say some areas of the mountainous kingdom are completely cut off by snow. But as of now, no deaths have been reported.