City prepares for winter risks

The fire which raged along the mountainside above Gordons Bay in November destroyed most of the ground cover, and the extreme drought has made it impossible for it to regenerate, increasing the likelihood of mudslides during bouts of heavy rain.

The City of Cape Town’s flooding and storms task team has completed its annual flood risk assessment – a key element of the City’s winter readiness plan.

Although Cape Town is in the midst of a drought and winter rainfall patterns cannot be predicted with certainty, flooding is a known hazard in the city and a number of departments are working hard to mitigate the impact of such incidents in the coming months.

 Historically, Cape Town is known for experiencing cut-off low pressure systems during the winter months that result in heavy rainfall and flash floods. The risks are increased when such conditions coincide with the spring tide, as was the case in June last year, resulting in storm damage including structural collapses, power outages and uprooted trees in various areas of the metropole.

To mitigate the impact of severe weather episodes, a number of City departments participate in the annual winter readiness preparations under the banner of the flooding and storms task team, chaired by the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre.

This year, the task team has identified the following risks relating to the hazard of flooding.

29 informal settlements – most situated along the N2 strip and Khayelitsha – are considered high-risk because of their location. Some of these are situated in wetlands, ponds and natural water-courses and will need to be relocated to higher ground.

Parts of the N1, N2 and R300 highways have also been identified as flood risks. Roadworks to mitigate these risks are under way.

Mountain slopes in the Helderberg, South Peninsula and Table Mountain range that have been stripped of stabilising vegetation by fires are a risk for flooding or mudslides.

“The respective departments are working hard to address the risks, but are also doing general maintenance like cleaning of stormwater and river systems, pruning of trees and shrubs and public education and awareness drives on how to safeguard homes, particularly in informal settlements, from flooding and related risks. Residents are given practical tips on how to raise floor levels, divert flood waters, and reduce health hazards associated with stagnant water. We also call on private homeowners to assess their risk. For example, if they live close to mountainous areas it is probably wise to consider sandbags in the event of flooding or mudslides; and to ensure that their properties are maintained to reduce weather-related risks,” said the City’s Mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith.

Some tips for private homeowners include:

Clearing gutters of debris like leaves

Ensuring that roofs and chimneys are waterproofed

Trimming tree branches that could potentially fall and cause damage or injury

Having chimneys and fireplaces cleaned as accumulated debris could pose a fire hazard

Ensuring that personal and building insurance is up to date

“We have no clear sense yet of how wet it will be this winter. The Disaster Risk Management Centre is still awaiting a long-range weather forecast from the South African Weather Service. Given our desperate need for rain to counter the crippling drought, we are obviously hoping for above average rainfall, but that comes with its own challenges. It is therefore imperative that everyone does their bit to ensure that we are ready for winter.

“We will also engage with the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to ensure the quickest possible turnaround times in instances where disaster relief is required. SASSA has taken over the coordination of disaster relief, which was previously done by the Disaster Risk Management Centre on its behalf and unfortunately we have seen a slowdown in service provision to fire victims. We cannot afford a similar situation in the event that residents are displaced or affected in any way by winter flooding,” added Mr Smith.

For more information about flood awareness and mitigation measures, visit www.capetown.gov.za/Family%20and%20home/safety-in-the-home/natural-disasters-and-your-home/severe-storms-and-flooding. In the event of an emergency, residents can contact the City’s public emergency communication centre on 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.