Part of the N1, one of the province’s major transport arteries, has been washed away.
This follows a flash flood in the Hex River Valley that saw three days of sporadic hail and thunderstorms destroy large portions of several grape farms’ harvests in the area.
Trucks and cars are being diverted several kilometres through De Doorns and other smaller roads in the valley since the N1 was severely damaged in Thursday night’s flash flood.
As most of the Western Cape sweltered in heatwave conditions this week, the thunderstorms in the Hex River Valley left farmers in the valley, along with those in De Doorns and Touws River, yesterday counting the cost of the damage to their grape harvest.
Thursday’s flood was particularly damaging, with 70mm of rain recorded in a few hours.
The affected grape farms
supply grapes not only to the local market but international ones as well, especially Europe, where there is a high demand. Fears have now been raised that the loss of crops could mark the end for several of the farms.
Wouter Kriel, spokesman for Western Cape Agricultural and Rural Development MEC Gerrit van Rensburg, said several farms had suffered “quite extensive damage”.
“We are aware of at least five farms that were quite badly affected and are grateful the number wasn’t much higher.
“Unfortunately, since this was an act of nature and unexpected, there is just no way to prepare.”
He confirmed there were now concerns about the harvest being delivered, but said the damage was still being assessed at this stage.
“No farms have yet requested assistance and no plan from the department has been formulated. Once we have a grip on things we will proceed with a plan of action,” Kriel said.
Agri Western Cape spokeswoman Portia Adams said the full extent of the damage would only be known in about a week.
“At this stage we know of two to six farmers who suffered severe individual losses, but we are hopeful they can survive. The side-effects of the flood and weather will only be seen when they go to the market in a week’s time,” she said, adding that they were offering support wherever possible.
Anton Viljoen, owner of ASV farms, which is one of the largest producers in the area, said about 20 farmers had suffered damage to their fields. He estimated he could have lost as much as 30 percent of his harvest.
“We had some heavy thunderstorms and hail on Tuesday and Wednesday, but nothing on the scale of Thursday. Some of the homes of farmers were evacuated, but luckily their houses didn’t suffer much damage,” he said, adding that they were trying to regroup and clean up.
“We are starting with spraying the grapes against fungus after the rainfall.”
But Viljoen conceded he faced an uphill battle to recover.
“It’s pretty tough for us in the current economic climate. We’re just going to have to try and break even and hope for better luck next year.”
Farmworkers have been deployed to focus on repairs, so they weren’t dealing with the remaining grape harvest, said worker Desmond Jonkerman.
“The damage means we can’t work for the next few days, which is very bad for many of the people of the area who depend on the farms for work, especially with the grape season.
“All we can do is wait things out and hope we can get back to work by Monday,” he said.
Yesterday, law enforcement agencies, municipality and farm workers were using bulldozers and tractors to try and clear the debris.
A portion of the Hex River Valley’s main road, where it meets the N1, has also been destroyed by the flood.
One of the clean-up managers, who did not wish to be named, said rain had built up in a catchment area, then overflowed down the mountain into the town.
“The debris from the mountain, mixed with the water, formed silt which clogged up the pipes under the road. With no place for the water to drain into, it destroyed the road.”
The water also flooded several factories in the town’s industrial area and workers at the Hexkoel factory were using bulldozers and brooms to clean up the silt. Some minor damage was also reported to some homes at an informal settlement in Touws River on Wednesday, but this was quickly repaired.
In the nearby Orchard area, floodwaters damaged a small bridge.