Heaviest Downpour in Six Decades Shuts Key South African Port

South Africa Halts Shipping at Key Port of Durban After Floods

South Africa suspended shipping at its main port in Durban after the heaviest rains in more than six decades and resultant flooding damaged roads leading to the harbor.

Operations at Durban Terminals were suspended on Monday night, Transnet SOC Ltd. said in an emailed statement. The harbor is a key trade route for South Africa and its landlocked neighbors including Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

“The exceptionally heavy rainfall overnight and this morning exceeded even the expectations of the southern African meteorological community at large,” the South African Weather Service said in a statement. The department attributed the heavy rainfall to a low pressure system called a cutoff low, which is associated with widespread instability in the atmosphere and can lead to prolonged periods of rainfall.

A weather station at Mount Edgecombe on the outskirts of Durban received 307 millimeters of rainfall within 24 hours on Monday -- the most since it began gathering data 62 years ago and almost double the previous high in 2019, according to the SAWS. That amount of rain is normally associated with intense hurricanes.

At least 45 people may have been killed by the flooding, Johannesburg-based broadcaster eNCA reported. Local media reports showed videos and images of A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S-labeled shipping containers adrift in the water.

The so-called N3 highway that connects Johannesburg to Durban was closed to southbound traffic because of debris on the road caused by flooding, KwaZulu-Natal’s Transport Department said on Twitter. Some bridges on the N2, the main highway along the nation’s Indian Ocean coastline, have been washed away, Parboo Sewpersad, a spokesman for eThekwini Metropolitan police, said on Durban-based East Coast Radio.

“Shipping has been suspended until further notice as a result of environmental damage caused by the adverse weather, and vessels on berth are on standby,” Transnet spokeswoman Ayanda Shezi said in statement. “There have been no major incidents reported at the terminals thus far.”

Heaviest Downpour in Six Decades Shuts Key South African Port

South Africa’s largest exporter of thermal coal, Thungela Resources Ltd., said its operations have resumed after a “small interruption,” according to a spokeswoman. Rival Exxaro Resources Ltd. said it hasn’t been affected. 

South Africa is this year experiencing the La Nina weather phenomenon, which usually causes above normal rainfall in the country and its neighbors. In January, many parts of the nation experienced the heaviest rains since tracking by district began in 1921.

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