CAPE TOWN — Flooding in eastern South Africa has killed at least 60 people, the authorities said on Wednesday, after torrential rains collapsed buildings, burst rivers and ripped sinkholes in roads.
Thousands more people were displaced, according to Lennox Mabaso, a government spokesman in KwaZulu-Natal Province, where the worst flooding occurred. Officials were providing urgent humanitarian support, he added, and had not yet fully quantified the damage from the storm.
About 10 inches of rain fell on the provincial capital, Durban, within 48 hours from Monday to Wednesday, according to the South African Weather Service, with even higher figures in surrounding areas.
“It looks like a tornado has hit,” said Paul Herbst, a spokesman for IPSS Medical Rescue, a private ambulance service in the region. “Entire houses have been taken completely off their foundations and washed away. The flood and mud damage is absolutely extraordinary.”
Mr. Herbst, who grew up in the area, added: “We haven’t ever seen destruction like this.”
The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, visited the province on Wednesday, cutting short a trip to Cairo, where African Union leaders had been discussing upheavals in Sudan and Libya. “People jumped into the mud, into flowing water, to save their children and loved ones,” he told reporters, commending the efforts of rescuers.
Some of the worst-hit areas in Durban were informal settlements, said Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers, a local disaster-response nonprofit. Around 200 homes were washed away in an area known as Quarry Road, he said. In Umlazi, one of South Africa’s biggest townships, at least 500 people were displaced.
“People in informal settlements suddenly had rivers gushing next to them,” Dr. Sooliman said.
Forecasters said that the flooding was caused by a cutoff low pressure system, a type of storm often associated with severe weather.
Flooding was also reported in other parts of the country as the storm traveled eastward on Tuesday. In Port St. Johns, a rural town in the Eastern Cape, the South African military sent troops to help with rescue and evacuations. Floods were also expected in drier regions farther north, the authorities said.
On Wednesday, the provincial health minister in KwaZulu-Natal called on families to identity flood victims at mortuaries. The death toll was expected to rise as floodwaters subsided and more people were reported missing.
The floods came a few days after a separate storm caused a church to collapse in KwaZulu-Natal, killing 13 people. A memorial for those victims had been planned for this Thursday, Mr. Mabaso, the government spokesman, said.