Two families from Lotus informal settlement, in Nyanga, say it is only by the grace of God that they are still alive after a heavy, rusted mast belonging to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) crashed through the roofs of their homes two weeks ago.
The families told Vukani they had been woken up by a massive bang just before 6am while sleeping.
Mzoli Matata said he looked up and noticed that part of the roof had fallen down, and rushed to ensure the safety of his wife and three children.
He said they salvaged what belongings they could but most of their essential possessions had been severely damaged.
“It was horrendous. I’ve never heard anything like it.
“I saw the roof caving in and I feared for my life and (that) of my family.
“The only thing that was on my mind was how are we going to get out. I’m just glad that we all came out alive and safe,” he said.
He told Vukani that he had previously noticed the mast was leaning and that he had reported this to Prasa more than once.
He said some officials from PRASA came to assess the pole and promised to return – and he believes if the officials had kept their word, their homes would be still standing.
Since the incident, he added, Prasa had provided the families – a total of 11 people – with a single three-bedroomed house in Strand.
“We do not have food. We are starving here. We have not been informed about their plans for us. We feel we have been dumped here,” he said.
Prasa spokeperson, Riana Scott, said an on-site investigation had revealed that the bolts of the mast had been removed, causing it to topple during the storm.
When asked about the families’ claims that they had previously reported that the mast was damaged, Ms Scott said, the structures should not have been there and had been illegally erected within Metrorail’s rail reserve.
She added that they had impeded the maintenance of rail infrastructure which would have been done under normal instances via a service road.
She explained that Metrorail had been unable to access the area to remove the mast due to the density of the structures which had been erected in the area.
Recovery teams had been to the area twice and neither a crane nor a vehicle could be brought closer than 100 meters, she said.
She added that they would not have been able to remove the mast piece by piece as sparks from cutting equipment would have posed a fire risk to the wooden shacks close by.
“The structures cannot be accessed by a via rail due to the state of the infrastructure nor can a crane or a heavy vehicle reach the area,” she said.
The families were moved on humanitarian grounds to a temporary facility until the City’s Disaster Relief Assistance could be provided.
Metrorail is urgently engaging with the City’s Disaster Management Directorate to enable relief funding which consists of food parcels and building material to assist,” she said.