10,000 evacuated, 4 dead as fires engulf South African town

AP , Thursday 8 Jun 2017

South African firefighters on Thursday struggled to protect a scenic coastal region after blazes killed four people, destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of up to 10,000 people.

A 3-year-old child was found dead in Knysna, a tourist destination on the popular Garden Route that runs along the southern coast, the African News Agency reported. It cited Anton Bredell, a local official.

Three other people died in a fire in the area on Wednesday after a storm hit the region around Cape Town, battering shores with big waves and dumping heavy rains that caused flooding in some communities.

A total of nine deaths have been attributed to the storm.

Flames engulfed dozens of homes in Knysna and led to the closures of some stretches of a coastal highway. By Thursday, some rain had fallen and a number of fires had abated.

One firefighter suffered severe burns and was taken to a hospital, local officials reported.

Strong winds and billowing smoke made it hard for the military to use helicopters to help put out the fires. The military also planned to deploy troops to patrol Knysna to prevent any looting, according to the African News Agency.

Patients who were evacuated from the provincial hospital in Knysna were being cared for in the squash courts, clubhouse and other facilities of a sports complex, the Knysna-Plett Herald newspaper reported.

Fires also gutted some homes around Plettenberg Bay, east of Knysna.

While many homes lost to the fires were upmarket, about 830 makeshift homes belonging to poor residents were flooded or had their roofs blown off in Cape Town, according to city authorities. About 2,500 people were forced to leave their homes. Power cuts were reported across the area.

"Our hearts go out to those who have also lost their belongings, including their homes," President Jacob Zuma said. "Such natural disasters always strike the poor more than most."

While Cape Town and surrounding areas have been suffering a severe drought, the rain was not expected to bring long-lasting relief.

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