“Tornados are scaled according to the Fujita scale from F0 to F5,” he explained. “Although an impact assessment has not been done, the pattern of the damage indicates that this was either an F0 or a F1 tornado. We are talking about a wind speed of up to 116km/h in the case of an F0 and up to 180km/h in an F1 tornado.” Sardiwalla explained that tornados are not uncommon in the Free State, but are unusual in winter.
It was reported that 13 people lost their lives in the Bethlehem tornado, including three members of the ANCYL when the bus they were travelling in was flipped over by the strong winds. A student from Potchefstroom was also killed on the banks of the Vaal Dam, as well as a farm worker in the Bethlehem district. A number of homes on the Eden smallholdings west of Bethlehem and shacks in an informal settlement in the vicinity were seriously damaged.
About 30 houses in the Tlholong Township near Kestell were either destroyed or seriously damaged, according to Werner Vermaak, ER24 spokesperson. A number of farm homesteads in Harrismith were also damaged. Arabian horse stud breeder Jorrie Jordaan from Bloemfontein, who keeps some of his horses on one of the Eden smallholdings, said the damage caused by the tornado is astonishing. One of his horses broke a shoulder bone and had to be put down. Two others were seriously injured.
“The roof of the house on the smallholding, where my parents live, was blown off. But the saddest part was to see my beloved horses in such distress,” said Jordaan. Santam Agriculture’s weather expert, Johan van den Berg, said that some tornados go undetected when they occur over the open veld far from towns or inhabited areas. One of the biggest tornados in the province occurred over the Welkom and Riebeeckstad area and the adjacent Thabong Township in 1990. Hundreds of houses were wiped out by the multi vortex tornado that swept through the two suburbs.