Unusually heavy rains began a few days ago in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, leading to massive floods that have wreaked havoc in the country’s most popular holiday destination.
The death toll from South Africa's "unprecedented" floods has climbed to 395 as helicopters fanned out across the southeastern city of Durban in an increasingly desperate search for survivors.
"Sadly the number of fatalities continues to increase with the latest figure standing at 395," regional head of the disaster managing ministry Sipho Hlomuka said in a statement on Friday.
With roads and bridges washed away by freak rainfall this week, rescuers battled to deliver supplies across the city, where some residents have been without power or water since Monday.
"The level of devastation of human life, infrastructure, and service delivery network in the province is unprecedented," said Sihle Zikalala, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal province, on Thursday.
"A total number of 40,723 people have been affected. Sadly, 341 fatalities have been recorded," he told a news conference.
At a small airport north of Durban, helicopters carried rescuers in and out. The air support was pulled from military and police, but also a fleet of volunteers, private contractors and schools.
But one day after the rains finally subsided, fewer survivors were being found, said Travis Trower, a director for the volunteer-run organisation Rescue South Africa.
Appeal for shelter
From 85 calls on Thursday, he said his teams had found only corpses.
"It's unfortunate, but we do the best we can for as many people as we can," he said.
The government has given no indication of how many people are missing. Zikalala predicted that the bill for damage will run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared the region a state of disaster to unlock relief funds.
Authorities said they had established 17 shelters to accommodate over 2,100 displaced people.
Entering their fourth day without power or water, Durban's poorest residents lined up on Thursday to collect water from burst pipes and dug through layers of mud to retrieve their few possessions.
There was a sense of despair amid the stench of sewage, growing stronger as the rains which wrought so much devastation stopped and the tropical heat returned.