Knysna gut­ted: SA bands to­gether

Aid for coastal towns as winds pick up

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - YOLANDE STANDER, NOLOY­ISO MTEMBU AND SHAUN SMILLIE

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.

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