South Africa

Storm Freddy could strike Sasol natural gas operations

Mozambique’s second-busiest port halted operations to prepare for the arrival of severe tropical storm Freddy that’s forecast to make landfall Friday as a tropical cyclone. 

The port of Beira, located in the centre of the country, paused operations from Thursday morning and will resume at 19:00 local time Friday, weather conditions permitting, operator Cornelder de Moçambique said in a note to clients posted on its Facebook page.

Neighboring Zimbabwe relies on Beira for fuel imports.

Meteo France predicted Freddy would strike Mozambique’s coast near Vilankulo, the tourist hotspot that’s about 150 miles south of Beira, as a tropical cyclone. The weather forecaster had previously said the system would make landfall earlier in the morning as a less intense severe tropical storm.

Freddy will strike land close to Sasol’s Pande and Temane natural gas operations, from where the fuel is piped to South Africa. The company is taking all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of its people and operations, it said in a response to emailed questions.

Mozambique cancelled some flights, while Zimbabwe closed schools on Friday in southern and eastern parts of the country that are expected to be most affected by Freddy. Flooding in central and southern Mozambique could affect as many as 1.75 million people, according to the government.

“Months’ worth of rainfall may fall in the space of a few days, causing widespread flooding in an area which already has saturated soils and high river-basin levels from unusually heavy seasonal rains,” the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement Thursday.

“The compound impact could be significant.”

Freddy developed off the coast of northwest Australia before traversing the southern Indian Ocean and making landfall on the east coast of Madagascar, where it killed at least seven people.

The last time a cyclone made such a journey was 2000 — also a La Nina year — when Eline and Hudah caused disastrous flooding in Mozambique, according to the WMO.

The storm may cause “catastrophic” flooding in parts of northeastern South Africa, also already hit by heavy rains this month, according to the nation’s weather service. 

While it probably won’t impact areas the nation relies on for coal mining and power generation, previous storms have affected the transmission lines that South Africa uses to import electricity from the Cahora Bassa hydropower dam in Mozambique, South African Weather Service forecaster Kevin Rae said in reply to emailed questions.

Eskom, the state power utility, has already imposed record power cuts as it can’t keep pace with demand.

“Hopefully this will not become an issue for Eskom,” said Rae.