Windhoek experienced a flurry of activity yesterday as residents and companies scrambled to save what little has been left of their homes and commercial facilities after torrential rains on Wednesday afternoon after the city’s drainage system was overwhelmed by the weight of the downpour.
A flood that damaged some vehicles, numerous homes, buildings, and infrastructure, including the Wernhill Shopping Centre in the Central Business District (CBD), forced it to close for most of Thursday. The centre’s ground floor was completely flooded, and activities didn’t start up again until today’s late afternoon.
Group Manager for Corporate Relations at Ohltaver and List (O&L), Roux-ché, says the majority of the CBD’s storm water is directed through a large canal that is located behind Wernhill, and it is believed that the flooding occurred because the storm water system was unable to withstand the pressure of the water flow.
“At this stage, it is not possible to give accurate verified figures in relation to the full extent of the infrastructure damage. We have managed to evacuate all shoppers and tenants on the ground floor of the mall. Thankfully, no serious injuries have been reported and the damage will only be determined after a full assessment and verification”, she says.
Meanwhile, City of Windhoek Spokesperson, Harold Akwenye, says the City water capacity could not handle the level of rainfall experienced on Wednesday. “Our water channels and drainage system can only handle a certain amount of rain, and last night the capacity was stretched, so some of the drainages were full and the water had to go somewhere, so it’s still the city’s fault,” he says.
This comes after some residents accused the City of approving building plans in flood-prone and low-lying areas. According to Akwenye, whatever the city approves is approved in accordance with the regulations, and it is the responsibility of the property owners to ensure that the channels around their homes allow water to pass through.
“It has been raining for years and the money places have never flooded, thus it is not the City’s fault that the rains have to be three times as heavy as usual; this is unprecedented rainfall in the sense that we have never had such rainfall before,” he says.
Further stating that if anyone should be blamed, it should be climate change, and he also advised residents to avoid dumping debris by the side of the road because it causes drainage systems to become clogged. “If we really want to blame someone, we should blame climate change. We pray for rain and then complain when it comes, so we should blame God for providing abundant rain, and you can’t complain about your drainage system when you threw debris in there yesterday after cleaning your yard,” he says.
The Wolfshack, a popular wine bar with local tapas and regular live music concerts, was one of the severely flooded establishments, and manager Carmen Visage estimates that damages will be over N$1 million.
Visage adds that the majority of their outdoor furniture was utterly destroyed and they are busy cleaning up the effect of the flood and determining which equipment is still functional.
“We are devastated, but we got up this morning and are organising ourselves to get our place back in order. In terms of the severity of the damages, the landowners are responsible for structural damages, and I believe insurance would cover the damage to our interior damages,” she says.
She further notes that that this occurred due to the property being on low grounding and they are located next to a municipal pipe. “The municipal drainage system is a major issue because it is not cleaned on a regular basis, resulting in a buildup, and apart from the water that flooded through the door, water from the street entered my kitchen through the drains upwards,” she says.
Another flood victim, taxi driver Cornelius Shipena, explains that because his vehicle was partially submerged in water, it now has an issue with the air filter and water damage to the engine, resulting in cylinder failure.
After sending his family to the north over the past weekend, Shipena grieves that he has no savings on hand left and is therefore saddened as he tries to figure out how to get money, rectify the damage, and continue operations.
“The mechanic called today to tell me that water had damaged the engine and that the pistons were not compressing as they should. This type of repair is very expensive, and I cannot afford it right now because I spent all of my money sending my family to the north last weekend,” he laments.