The unpredictability of ‘natural phenomena’ and ‘earthmoving’ lay before our eyes after cycling to Houtbay via Chapman’s Peak drive on Saturday morning.
Although torrential rain this weekend wreaked havoc across the Cape Peninsula, it was our second viewing of a mudslide on Chappies in two months. On this occasion, however we saw tons of earth which after being dislodged from mountain slopes high above, had landed diagonally across within metres of a fully occupied apartment block down below.
Fortunately for the owners and occupants at No. 1 Chapman’s Peak Drive, most of the massive mudslide came to rest on the road, while heavy water flow continued toward the entrance down a steep driveway. The majority of the fast moving earth and mountain debris had been interrupted by heavily enforced infrastructure which supported the exterior barrier walls that extend about a metre above road level.
Good fortune brought an accidental meeting with Ryno du Rand, General of Tintswalo Atlantic next door, who confirmed that this five star guest lodge was lucky enough to have escaped harm. “This is possibly due to a much lower position closer to the ocean, as well as sound environmental management of this site in co-operation with SANPARKS.” He said insurance measures which are in place against damage to property, also extends to liability cover for occupants, such as guests and staff. Unlike his neighbours, who are considered fortunate despite suffering damages arising from mudflow into the obscured entrance, and water which flooded apartments, Tintswalo got off lightly with only cancelling a guest event due to road closures.
Great relief on Sunday morning then, when the fully intact exterior barrier walls at No. 1 Chapman’s Peak had become clearly visible. An army of front loaders and trucks still busy clearing away tons of earth, had revealed the relatively unscathed apartment block, which is built across several levels, with magnificent views of Sentinel Peak and Houtbay visible from outdoor decks and swimming pool areas. Fortunately for the inhabitants, owners and families, this property was surrounded by what is presumed to be heavily enforced concrete parameter walls just high enough above the road.
Although not exactly a welcome site to property owners at that time, was evidence of a newly created ‘natural phenomenon’ in the form of a fast flowing waterfall across the road, now diverted by emergency trenches into Houtbay. Little or no damage to property at number 1 Chapman’s Peak drive resulted in some owners and agents in Gauteng remaining blissfully unaware, says Gauteng property agent Anne Williamson, who is marketing a R5.1m three bedroom apartment in this block.
Causes of damage to private property as the result of high rainfall across the Cape Peninsula this weekend, in insurance terms is referred to as ‘natural phenomena’, while ‘earth movement’ refers to land and mudslides. Professional evaluators assess coverage based on individual circumstances within specific geographic settings, such as the frequency and intensity of such events.
As residents on a high mountain slope ourselves, renewed realisation set in as to how ‘acts of nature’ impact on various properties. As advised by insurance specialists, who referred to our case in Simonstown as a house built on fossilised sand dunes - presumed to have been under water many millenniums ago - that heavy rainfall impacts differently on various types of soil compositions.
Depending on high or low risk geographical locations, there is no doubt that good construction protects properties on high slopes, while insurance protects against damage to property. For this very reason then that architects and engineers repeatedly stress sound infrastructure support, which may initially be costly but ensures solid foundations and reinforcement in high risk areas.
Insurance specialists say that although liability for damage caused by natural disasters varies, property owners have some control over obtaining good coverage against unexpected damage.