By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – Flash floods have caused destruction in Botswana as bridges collapsed while roads and railway lines were washed away this week.
Agoods train belonging to Botswana Railways that was travelling from Mafikeng in South Africa derailed in Lobatse, about 70 kilometres from Gaborone, because of the floods caused by Cyclone Dineo which hit most parts of Mozambique and South Africa.
A bridge that links Lobatse with Gaborone also collapsed while Ramotswe village, about 30 kilometres from Gaborone, was submerged.
Roads linking major settlements to the capital were closed and the department of roads advised the public across the country to cancel trips as other bridges continued to collapse.
The heavy rains, which affected most parts of the country, also led to the temporary closure of some border posts linking Botswana with South Africa.
Minister of Transport and Communications Kitso Mokaila described the situation as a catastrophe. “This is not only destruction to government’s assets but a tragedy.
At the moment we are trying to establish why these bridges are collapsing so easily and who authorised the movement of trains because we had communicated that their movement should be suspended,” said Mokaila.
The minister said the government is going to spend a lot of money to rehabilitate roads and bridges damaged by the floods.
In a statement, the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) advised members of the public to continue excising caution when using roads in and around the country, as they might be affected by flooding.
“Members of the public are advised to avoid unnecessary travel and otherwise exercise caution when using the roads as they might be affected by floods. In addition the public is urged to cooperate with all the relevant authorities when required to do so,” the NDMO said.
Radithupa Radithupa, chief meteorologist in the Department of Meteorological Services, said the storm, which started in Mozambique, would drift towards the northern and eastern parts of Botswana until the end of February.
Media reports indicated that the storm started off recently by hitting Mozambique’s coastline before reaching South Africa where heavy rains and flooding caused widespread destruction. According to Radithupa, the eastern and western parts of Botswana would most likely be caught by the cyclone’s grip going into the weekend and probably into next week.
Radithupa explained that since the soils were already saturated from the recent rains, the heavy rains might lead to more flooding.
“Possible impacts of heavy rains might include damage to crops, livestock and create inconvenience to the public in their daily lives. The department will keep monitoring the conditions, and will update the public accordingly. Rainfall amounts of 80mm or more in 24 hours is to be expected over most parts of the country. These may be accompanied by strong winds and lightning which may cause damage to property and loss of life,” said Radithupa.
The roads department has cautioned all road users to be alert on the roads at all times for danger posed by high volumes of storm water.
The department said it had observed a number of roads and bridges which were being persistently affected by the flash floods, especially in southern, north-eastern and central regions and this had resulted in roads being declared impassable for hours and some for days.
It warned the public not to use roads or cross bridges affected by heavy flooding as this coul lead to damage of property and loss of life.
Meanwhile, media reports indicate that heavy rainfall and floods in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique would adversely affect crop production and may prolong the need for humanitarian assistance if harvests are undermined.
In Mozambique, a total of seven deaths were recorded, 51 people suffered minor injuries, four were seriously injured, and an estimated 652,684 people were affected by the storm in the cities of Inhambane, Maxixe and surrounding districts.
In South Africa, the government’s National Disaster Management Centre said that 20 houses had been damaged in Mpumalanga, and up to five houses in Limpopo.
In Zimbabwe, mop-up and rescue operations were in place after heavy rains caused flooding in Tsholotsho, in the country’s Matabeleland North province where there was devastation after crops and houses were destroyed by the storm. Bridges were also washed away, reports said.