Victims of South Africa’s deadliest storm on record scrambled to get help on Thursday as the death toll from floods and landslips that struck the country’s southeast surged beyond 300.

At least 306 people have been killed since the heaviest rainfall in six decades swept away homes and destroyed infrastructure in the city of Durban and KwaZulu-Natal province.

The government has declared a state of disaster in the region and pledged relief to those affected.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a visit to the area on Wednesday, described the floods as a “calamity… a catastrophe of enormous proportions.”

Thousands of people have been made homeless, roads and bridges swept away and at least 248 schools have been damaged.

A mortuary worker at the Durban township of Phoenix said more than 100 corpses had been brought to the morgue, which has a capacity of 500 bodies.

“Last night there was queue of people bringing bodies. It’s too much,” the worker said, asking not to be named as he did not have permission to speak to the media.

The government of KwaZulu-Natal has put out a public call for aid, urging people to donate non-perishable food, bottled water, clothes and blankets.

The authorities are assessing “all affected families” for their needs, it said in a statement.

Appeal for shelter
But many survivors said they had been left to fend for themselves.

In Amaoti, a township north of Durban, residents balanced precariously on the edge of a broken road, trying to fetch clean water from a broken pipe underneath.

Volunteers said they were desperate to find food, clothes and other essentials.

In a pitch-dark hall in Durban’s Glebelands hostel district, volunteers used the torches from their cellphones to register scores of displaced people overnight.

“We are just helping the people because we care,” said Mabheki Sokhela, 51, who helped organise temporary shelter at a community hall.

“These are our brothers and sisters”

He urged fellow residents to provide a roof for the victims.

“We are trying to accommodate these people. There is not enough space,” he said.

Many victims slept on chairs or on cardboard on the floors of the hall.

Brutal storm
Weather experts say apocalyptic levels of rain were dumped over the region over several days, in South Africa’s biggest storm on record.

Some areas received more than 450 millimetres (18 inches) in 48 hours, amounting to nearly half of Durban’s annual rainfall of 1,009 mm, the national weather service said.

The storm caught South African authorities unprepared.

Africa’s most industrialised country has been largely shielded from tropical storms that form over the Indian Ocean and typically batter Mozambique when they make landfall.

The latest rains were caused by a weather system called a “cut-off low” that brought rain and cold weather to much of the country.

The South African Weather Service has issued an Easter weekend warning of thunderstorms and localised flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

The country is still struggling to recover from the two-year-old Covid pandemic and deadly riots last year that killed more than 350 people.