Local, provincial and national departments met in Bhisho to map out a strategy to cope with the challenge.
The closures follow the collapse of roads and bridges on the R72 and N2 , the main arteries linking East London and Port Elizabeth. The structural integrity of roads was compromised by heavy rains that caused flooding in parts of the Eastern Cape.
At least eight people died and scores of families were driven from their homes at the weekend as floodwaters ripped through the province.
Disaster management and the provincial department of roads and public works yesterday banned heavy vehicles from a section of the R72, fearing the load might cause further damage.
Later, the road between Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea was closed after the Kasouga River bridge appeared to be on the verge of collapse.
A portion of the N2 between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth had already been closed after the road collapsed, creating a 25m-wide gap.
Border-Kei Chamber of Business CEO Les Holbrook described the closures as a “disaster” that could hobble businesses with extra costs.
“This is really becoming a disaster situation now. Big companies such as Mercedes-Benz SA and Johnson Johnson depend on deliveries from other parts of the country and overseas. Now these disastrous roads will cause delays to their production,” he said.
An enormous cavity on the underside of the flooded Kasouga River bridge was spotted by road contractors, triggering the closure of the coastal R72 yesterday.
Provincial roads and public works spokesman Sisanda George said it was not clear when the roads would be reopened.
“We cannot specify the extent of the damage yet and how much it will cost to fix. There are other stakeholders involved so this might take time,” said George.
The department met the South African National Roads Agency and affected municipalities in Bhisho to discuss the extent of the damage.
Disaster management spokesman Captain John Fobian said motorists from East London would have to use the King William’s Town route to Alice, Fort Beaufort, Adelaide and Cookhouse to eventually get to Port Elizabeth.
Motorists from Grahamstown would have to use the Fort Beaufort route to get to Port Elizabeth.
“People will have to use alternative routes. Fortunately, we managed to turn away all traffic on time yesterday, so nobody was injured due to the collapse of the bridge and road,” Fobian said.
Holbrook said immediate intervention was needed to resolve the problem or local businesses could lose millions if unable to export or import materials.
Mercedes-Benz SA spokesman Lynette Skriker said: “The plant in East London has been affected in terms of our road haul between East London and Port Elizabeth, which now takes approximately six hours longer using alternative routes.”
George said it would take several months to fix the collapsed section of the N2, but Sanral was identifying an existing gravel road that could be used as a detour.
“Even that will take a few weeks to construct but in the meantime we have no alternative than to divert traffic onto the R63 to access the N10 via Fort Beaufort,” he said.