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South Africa floods kill more than 259

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FLOODS There have been incidents of looting in Durban

The death toll in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal has reached more than 250, after devastating floods wreaked havoc in the area.

Local authorities are calling for a state of disaster to be declared, after some areas saw months’ worth of rain fall in one day.

Officials have called it “one of the worst weather storms in the history of our country”.

Mudslides have trapped people under buildings, with more floods expected.

There were reports that the rescue efforts were being hampered by poor visibility as a helicopter continued to bring people back to safety.

On Tuesday, the BBC witnessed one such search operation for a 10-year-old girl who was part of a family of four swept away on a flooded bridge.

Community volunteers waded into the muddy river, taking turns to hack away at the branches using machetes and removed debris and rubbish that had washed downstream.

Parts of the crucial N3 highway, which connects Durban to the economic heartland of Gauteng province, have been blocked.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has visited the area and pledged to help.

“Even though your hearts are in pain, we’re here for you,” the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

He also described the disaster as a force of nature, which some have disagreed with. They blame poor drainage and badly built houses in low-lying areas for the high death toll.

Mxolisi Kaunda, mayor of the area’s biggest city, Durban, has denied that poor drainage was to blame, saying the scale of the flood was unexpected.

Scenes of destruction were still evident throughout the area. Some of the roads to the port of Durban were impassable after the swollen river washed mud and debris unto the roads. Operations at the port have now been suspended.

In an industrial area called the Bluff, which forms part of the port, the BBC witnessed cars overturned on the road, or crushed by debris. Companies were using water pumps to drain the water from their premises.

Ron Naidoo, a community pastor in the town of Tongaat, told the BBC he had been kept awake through the night by the rising floodwaters and had seen police drag a car out of the river with a body inside. –BBC/Reuters