JOHANNESBURG – A storm pummeled the coastline around the South African city of Cape Town on Wednesday, unleashing heavy rains as well as high winds that fanned fires and forced evacuations of some residents. At least eight people were killed.
Many people in Knysna, a town on the scenic Garden Route east of Cape Town, fled as blazes tore through homes. An evacuated hospital was among buildings that caught fire and the main highway was closed in the area, South African media reported.
Clinton Manuel, Knysna's fire chief, said his teams were struggling to contain numerous fires.
"This wind is blowing very, very strong, causing the fire to spread extremely rapidly," Manuel said, according to the African News Agency.
The town mayor, Eleanore Bouw-Spies, described the fires as the worst in decades.
In Cape Town and surrounding areas, storm victims included four people who died in a fire caused by lightning, three who died in another fire and one who was killed when a home collapsed, disaster management officials said.
Cape Town workers said they had taken measures to protect some poor residents, who live in sprawling neighborhoods of makeshift homes. However, hundreds of homes were flooded or damaged, authorities said.
The storm forced President Jacob Zuma, who was in Cape Town, to cancel a speech to an international media conference in Durban, a city on the Indian Ocean coastline, his office said. He was due to address an annual congress organized by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
The South African military said it had placed a helicopter on standby to help with any emergency evacuations in Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town.
While the storm provided some relief for a severe drought in Cape Town, officials said sustained rainfall over several years is needed in a city whose reservoirs are at low levels.
Cape Town recently announced restrictions on water use. On Wednesday, authorities urged residents to capture rain from the storm in containers for flushing toilets and other needs.