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Death Toll Estimated AT Over 300, 590,000 Reported Homeless

October 4, 1987

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The death toll from floods in Natal province was estimated Sunday at more than 300, with additional reports saying 590,000 were homeless and that Zulus were starving in isolated areas.

Minister of National Health Willie van Niekerk said Sunday the confirmed death toll was 205, with 118 missing. He estimated 55,676 people were left homeless in the five days of heavy rains and flooding that ended last Tuesday.

But a survey by Natal University’s Built Environment Suppoort Group found an average 45 percent of black dwellings in squatter settlements outside Durban were uninhabitable, leaving an estimated 590,000 without homes.

If the survey is a reflection of the situation in the inaccessible, rural areas of Zululand, the group said, 1.2 million of the area’s 4 million people could be without adequate shelter.

Reporters for the Durban-based Sunday Tribune newspaper said they traveled in Red Cross vehicles to the flooded and cold hills of northern Natal, where Zulus live.

″People huddling along the roadside screamed at us, begging us to stop and give them food,″ said the reporters. ″Unable to speak to us in English, they showed their hunger by rubbing their stomachs.″

″They have been trapped for almost six days, without homes, food or warmth and no one to turn to in a vast landscape of hills (and) raging rivers,″ they said.

The reporters said they saw villagers scrambling along riverbanks trying to recover coffins which had been washed out of cemeteries holding their ancestors. They said fights broke out at a Red Cross food distribution center.

Health officials warned of an outbreak of cholera and other diseases because of the lack of clean water.

Residents of Durban, the nation’s third largest city, lined up at fire hydrants and mobile water tankers to obtain fresh water.

Thousands of Zulus in northern Natal remained cut off, unable to receive medicine, water, food and blankets because access roads had turned into rivers.

Professor Walter Loening of Natal University, an expert on child diseases, was quoted by the Sunday Tribune as saying the two most common causes of death in young black children in the province were gastroenteritis, which would be exacerbated by unclean water, and pneumonia, likely to increase among children who lost their homes.

″I have no doubt the high (13 percent) mortality rate of young children will increase, purely because their families were already living on a knife- edge,″ Loening said.

Officials in Durban said one of four damaged aqueducts that normally supply the city with water was repaired, but water taps that were shut off Friday would probably not be turned on again until after Wednesday.

Industries have been ordered closed possibly until Oct. 12 to conserve water in the metropolitan area.

Beachfront tourist hotels had running tap water, but guests were asked to conserve. The tourist industry provides the area with 40 percent of its revenues.

Floodwaters caused an estimated $500 million in damage.

Update hourly