Knysna gutted: SA bands together
Aid for coastal towns as winds pick up
THERE has been a groundswell of support from South Africans as they rally behind relief efforts in fire-ravaged Knysna.
Supplies were trucked into the coastal towns yesterday for more than 4 000 residents evacuated during a three-day inferno that killed five people and gutted 300 homes.
Gift of the Givers supplied 32 tons of bottled water, blankets, nappies, food and tents. Emergency services, ambulances and support personnel helped rush critically injured patients to George.
OperationSA and the Al-Imdaad Foundation raised R750 000 for food, blankets and clothing for those affected by the Garden Route blaze and storms in the Cape.
“Our hearts are broken. We never expected to see such devastation. Hundreds are homeless and their lives have been torn apart,” said social activist Yusuf Abramjee in Knysna.
Corporates and NGOs also donated goods and money, and 100 volunteers from Gauteng have joined fellow firefighters in trying to subdue the blaze.
The Cape Epic and Absa donated 5 896 two-man tents, while courier company DHL plans to deliver supplies to Knysna, George and surrounding areas. In Cape Town, fire stations are drop-off points for donations.
Coca- Cola Beverages delivered 65 cases of bottled water and energy drinks to firefighters, as well as groceries, food and blankets for the community.
There is a growing concern from rescue workers about fires restarting, with forecasters predicting strong berg winds.
Garden Route National Park manager Len du Plessis said: “The wind is expected to reach speeds of around 42km/h by 11am. Efforts will be going towards extinguishing smouldering areas.”
Volunteers and neighbours helped residents battle the blaze, while others provided shelter. Residents and businesses fed firefighters as others loaded residents’ belongings in their vehicles.
In Plettenberg Bay, Diane Anderson lost everything when her home in Whale Rock was engulfed in flames. When she went outside on Wednesday night, she faced an approaching fire.
“I was so shocked. I just saw this rolling red mass coming towards us,” Anderson said. She and her partner Chris Nesbitt grabbed their two dogs, a cat and a parrot and drove off.
“By that time, one exit route had already been inaccessible and we had to drive down towards the beach area. We were told that we couldn’t take the car as we would be in danger if we got stuck in the sand.
“Two NSRI guys helped us load the animals in their vehicle and took us through.” The couple found shelter with friends. “They fed us and gave us a bed for a few nights.”
Anderson stood in front of the heap that was her home yesterday, and sobbed. “You realise that these are just material things, but among those material things there were things of great sentimental value, like the little manicure set my daughter gave me when she was 13 and all the photographs… our memories.”
Police in Knysna are yet to establish the cause of the fires. Spokesperson Malcolm Pojie said seven arrests have been made for theft and possession of items stolen from homes evacuated or destroyed. Additional officers are searching for missing residents.
Pojie said the deaths of five people – including a family of three – are being investigated.
Meanwhile, a statement by Knysna Tourism said the Oyster Festival would be going ahead next month.
“The festival will be a great opportunity for people who want to help our residents to recover from this disaster,” said chairperson Elmay Bouwer.
James Banda surveys the remains of his employer’s house. Thousands of people have been affected and hundreds of homes have been destroyed as runaway fires swept through areas around Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
The three-day inferno has claimed five lives and gutted hundreds of homes.