The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is currently assisting motorists along the N3 highway between Villiers and Harrismith in the Free State province in the wake of the heavy snowfalls in the area.
Soldiers from 5 South African Infantry Battalion (5SAI) at Ladysmith have been deployed at Van Reenen Pass to provide support to vehicles stuck in deep snow. “Heavy duty trucks have blocked the road and SANDF members have managed to clear the route to allow for the free flow of traffic,” the military says in a statement. Heavy duty military vehicles from 2 Field Engineer Regiment at Bethlehem are also in the area to assist in removing trucks which are currently obstructing the traffic flow.
Reuters reports unusually heavy snowfall blanketed large parts of South Africa on Monday night, halting trains and leaving thousands of motorists stranded after highways closed. The late-winter storm also brought high winds that played havoc with shipping and delayed air transport. The military dispatched a helicopter to pluck crew members from a cargo ship that ran aground off the east coast.
Parts of South Africa usually receive a dusting about once or twice a year but the storm that hit large parts of the eastern half of the country on Monday and Tuesday dumped up to 60cm (2 feet) in some areas. “Snow is not unheard of but it is usually not this extreme,” said SA Weather Service forecaster Karl Loots.
Transport authorities shut sections of major highways, including a heavily travelled route between Johannesburg and the main east coast city of Durban, Reuters added. More snow is expected to fall in many parts of the country today.
The weather service has warned that cold weather conditions will persist in most parts of the country until tomorrow.
The state BuaNews agency reports government has established a National Joint Operations Committee to deal with the icy conditions in the Fre State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The committee includes representatives from the National Disaster Management Centre of the Department of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs, Provincial Disaster Management, the Road Traffic Management Corporation, South African Police Service, South African National Defence Force, South African National Roads Agency Limited and N3TC.
“Over the past 24 hours, extremely heavy snowfalls and rain have been experienced across large parts of the country, resulting in the closure of various roads,” said Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele. He added that Emergency Services personnel have been working around the clock since Monday to ensure that the affected roads and road users are safe. He urged motorists to drive with caution. “We are calling upon all motorists to stay alert, slow down and stay in control.
“Drive with your headlamps on at all times and adjust your driving habits to the prevailing weather conditions. Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to avoid situations where you may have to brake suddenly on a slippery surface.” Ndebele further urged motorists, who are planning to travel between Johannesburg and Durban, to postpone their trips until the snow subsides and weather conditions improve.
BuaNews adds snow is relatively rare in SA “and as such, vehicles and motorists are ill equipped to handle what is a very dangerous driving condition”.
Pic: Trucks making heavy weather at Nottingham Road in KwaZulu-Natal yesterday. Chris Botha, Netcare 911