Johannesburg, South Africa — The death toll from flooding brought by days of torrential rain along South Africa’s east coast has risen to more than 300. President Cyril Ramaphosa was met with scenes of utter devastation Wednesday as he visited Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where search teams continued to find more victims’ bodies amid the wreckage.
Speaking with devastated local families who’ve lost loved ones and their homes, the president called it “a catastrophe of enormous proportions,” and vowed that his government would “act with haste” to help those affected.
Ramaphosa met Nonkululeko Mdlalose, who choked back tears as he told the president he had lost 10 family members who were sleeping when the floods hit their home at 11 p.m. on Monday.
The president assured Mdlalose that financial assistance was coming as the province would be formally declared a disaster zone.
Some areas saw six months’ worth of rain fall in a single day, with more than a foot dropping in some places over three days of downpours. South Africa’s national weather service said the province had seen its heaviest one-day deluge in more than 60 years.
Aerial video showed hillsides and houses washed away and buildings and other infrastructure destroyed. Communications with the region were interrupted with two major cellular networks saying 900 of their cell towers were down.
The flooding started early in the week, sparking landslides that buried or swept away homes, collapsed bridges and blocked key roadways. The port of Durban was flooded, with shipping containers swept away and destroyed.
On Thursday, emergency services were still unable to access some of the more remote areas, leaving residents to try to dig neighbors trapped by landslides out from under 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 were fueling concern among residents. The provincial government estimated that well over $100 million worth of damage had been done to property and infrastructure in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The National Sea Rescue Institute said it had launched its largest mass rescue operation in years in response to the disaster, with hundreds of rescues carried out.
More heavy rainfall was forecast over Easter weekend, and with the ground already saturated, rescue workers and residents feared they could see more flooding and landslides in the coming days.
Scientists haveand more rainfall across the region. The South African weather service has called on the public to be alert.