By John Eligon
The death toll from several days of punishing rain that drenched the city of Durban and the surrounding areas near South Africa’s east coast rose to more than 250 on Wednesday as the nation’s president visited the area to take stock of the devastation.
Although the rain in the region stopped Tuesday, officials were still trying to fully assess the massive human and infrastructure toll as rescue crews rummaged through muddy hillsides in search of the missing.
The steady rain, which came down in droves at times, started late last week and continued almost nonstop through the weekend, washing away bridges, leaving gaping holes in roadways, and sweeping homes and shacks from their foundations. Parts of a national highway were flooded and looked like a river.
President Cyril Ramaphosa traveled Wednesday to KwaZulu-Natal province, the area where the destruction occurred, meeting with provincial leaders and touring affected regions.
“You have experienced the biggest tragedy that we have ever seen,” Ramaphosa told residents of an affected community, according to television news video of his visit.
Witnesses and rescue workers gave harrowing accounts of what unfolded, as riverbanks overflowed and muddy water flooded communities.
Some residents sought refuge on rooftops, waiting to be rescued. In Tongaat, a town 40 minutes north of the Durban city center, a woman driving home with two children was swept away by a river that broke its banks, according to Bilall Jeewa of Gift of the Givers, a charity group.