JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Snow. Floods. Icy winds. Maybe even a tornado. South Africans are facing one of their harshest winters in years, with at least four deaths blamed on flooding from heavy rain that has caused travel delays in the south and west of the country.
While north of the equator, much of the United States sweats through a heat wave, Johannesburg saw flurries Wednesday for the first time in at least eight years, the national weather service said. Stunned office workers pressed against windows to savor the spectacle.
Freezing temperatures are not unusual at higher altitudes during the winter, but heavy snow has fallen in some interior towns that rarely experience such weather. More snow and gale force winds were expected Thursday in some areas, Weather SA said.
Torrential rains have caused flooding along the southern coast, including the town of George in the Western Cape province, where a rain-swollen river swept a car from a bridge. Police recovered two men and two children who had been inside the vehicle, but rescuers were looking for a fifth person believed to have been in the car.
Homes were flooded, sending scores of families to seek shelter at a community center and school, local authorities said.
Heavy snow, rain and falling rocks closed mountain roads in parts of the interior, including a border post with Lesotho, according to local news reports.
The George airport was closed Tuesday, disrupting 24 flights before it reopened Wednesday morning, airport officials said. Passenger trains in the Western Cape were running up to 14 hours late, the Spoornet rail company said.
Meteorologists were investigating whether a severe storm that swept through the northern town of Dullstroom on Tuesday night was a tornado. At least six people were injured in the heavy winds and rain, which also ripped roofs off homes, police said.