Storm Surge

By Allan Jackson - May 2007

NB.: Anyone who has pictures of the storm in progress is asked to contact me here.

Passing through the Point Yacht Club around the middle of March 2007, I saw a notice that higher than usual tides were expected over the weekend. Others around town had heard the same, and it was put down to the fact that the earth, moon and sun were going to be in alignment, making the spring tides more severe than usual.

On Sunday night, March 18, 2007, Durban and the coast of KZN was struck by gale force winds and swells more than 7m high. Millions of rands worth of damage was done to infrastructure along the coast but, incredibly, there was only one person killed. Particularly hard-hit were the beachfront restaurants which line the Lower Marine Parade in Durban.

It later turned out that the major cause of all the devastation was a storm surge similar to that which struck New Orleans, and inundated that city in August, 2005. According to Ian Hunter, of the SA Weather Service, writing on a website, the storm surge was caused by a cut-off low which occurred 700km out to sea.

Severe winds and waves resulted in a much higher-than-usual sea level which smashed into the coast on Monday morning, and wreaked a trail of destruction. Hunter said that the spring tides predicted for the weekend would have raised the high tide level by no more than 50cm, at the worst.

I did not manage to get to the beach while the storm was raging but I did go down on Thursday, March 22, and found a scene of devastation that amazed me. Much of the sand on the beaches had picked-up and deposited on the Lower Marine Parade and there were bulldozers and graders hard at work, moving it back.

Beach furniture, such as signs, poles, loudspeakers and rubbish bins, had been flung any old how, and the roots of the palm trees had even been exposed. The restaurants along the Lower Marine Parade had taken a pounding and only a few, including Wimpy, were back in action, while recovery operations had scarcely begun in others.

Hunter reckoned that major storm surges are fortunately not common along our coast. I remember waves breaking over the Lower Marine Parade at least three times in my life, although I don't know what caused the first two. There are moves afoot to build a yacht marina off the beach, just north of the harbour mouth, but events like this make me wonder if it's such a good idea.

After the storm

Pictures by Allan Jackson © 2007

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