Trail of destruction after Free State diamond mine dam burst leaves destitute residents in shock and searching for relatives
Residents of the area devastated by the Jagersfontein diamond mine dam burst stood around in shock on Monday, 12 September 2022, looking at the destruction of their neighbourhood. People, houses, cars, personal belongings and many sheep were swept away by strong stream of water after the dam wall burst. Three bodies have been found buried under mud. Forty people, including a pregnant woman, have since been taken to hospital after sustaining injuries, while four people have been confirmed to be missing. Multi-disciplinary teams consisting of the South African Police Service, emergency medical services, health, disaster management, social development, search and rescue personnel and engineers from the mine responded immediately and are on the scene, where search, rescue, immediate relief and stabilisation operations are underway.
Residents were evacuated, with reports of houses collapsing near the Charlesville area.
The cell phone towers have been damaged affecting communication, there is no electricity and not a drop of drinkable water. Some of the roads have been cut off.
"The town has been separated by the mud so the two communities you can't access them. There are a lot of people who have been admitted to hospital," said speaker for the Kopanong Municipality, Jerry Moitse.
Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and members of her provincial Cabinet have been in the area since Sunday.
Police, Roads and Transport MEC William Bulwane said his department had been delivering humanitarian aid, and a number of roads had been temporarily closed to be stabilised and repaired.
Hundreds of volunteers, including Gift of the Givers, the Al-Imdaad Foundation and Shoprite workers, were delivering water, food and basic sanitation necessities to the destitute.
The owner of the tailings dam, Jagersfontein Developments, on Monday confirmed that one person had died in the disaster and one person was still missing. It said it had made R20-million available for relief operations. “The dam went through independent engineering inspections in July 2022, during which it was found to be safe and volumes were within limits,” the company said.
An independent water analysis had found that the wastewater is not hazardous and does not pose a health risk, the company said.
Meanwhile, electricity connection has been affected in the area. Eskom says it has lost bulk electricity supply to Jagersfontein town and township. Electricity poles are down and the substation has been damaged and the power utility says it's unable to estimate when supply will be restored.
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy said it has dispatched experts to investigate the cause of the dam burst. "The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has noted with concern the unfolding incident in Jagersfontein in the Free State and further information thereof will be communicated following investigations, "said the department's Nathi Shabangu.
During his visit to the town, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised residents that the government would assist them with clothes, food and accommodation. In the town centre, a handmade poster reads: “We told them, they did not listen, now this.” During a meeting with President Ramaphosa in the town hall at Fauresmith, the neighbouring town, residents voiced their disappointment that the provincial government had not heeded their warnings that the dam was leaking.
The flow of water, after the tailings dam of an abandoned mine in Jagersfontein collapsed, has stopped and the immediate threat is being stabilised, said Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Sunday afternoon. "The untold damage in and around the community of Charlesville in Jagersfontein are extensive and has negatively impacted the community," she said in a statement. "Some people are displaced, others lost property, while others are reported injured and missing." The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) was coordinating with the Provincial Disaster Management Centre and other stakeholders to ensure the assistance needed was provided, where required, Dlamini-Zuma said.
"The NDMC has deployed staff members to the affected area to assess the damage and impact, and to provide direct operational support."
Jagersfontein is a small town in the Free State that sprung up during the diamond rush of the 1870s.
Sources: EWN, Daily Maverick, Gift of the Givers, OFM