Deaths, chaos in coast floods

2008-06-18 00:00

Five people were reported dead, three missing and hundreds had to seek shelter, after heavy rainfall caused flooding and landslides, washing away roads and bridges on the south coast yesterday.

Hard rain hit the area on Tuesday, and by yesterday 400 mm had been measured in some areas.

In the Umzimkhulu District, a 20-year-old woman’s body was pulled out of a river near Hibberdene and a 14-year-old boy drowned at Nyavini after a bridge he was walking on collapsed.

A seven-year-old boy died after a house collapsed on him. His parents were trapped with him for hours waiting to be rescued.

Captain Vincent Pandaram from the Umzinto/Umkomaas area reported two fatalities, three missing people and hundreds evacuated from their homes.

Nokhuthula Ngwenya (16) and Focus Mathe (14) drowned when the bakkie taking them to school was swept off a bridge near Umgababa. Four occupants managed to swim to shore. The bodies of the driver and another pupil have not yet been recovered.

Education MEC Ina Cronjé visited the scene and Sidelile High School to express her condolences.

Rising water levels and thick debris halted a search and rescue mission for a man believed to have been trapped inside a collapsed ground floor flat in Riverside Park when a tree crashed into it.

Other residents were evacuated to community halls. “It is too difficult to give an exact count because people are continuously being brought in, but there are hundreds of people who had to evacuate their homes,” said Pandaram.

Landslides closed roads in many areas. “The R102 between Port Shepstone and Margate has been closed and … motorists are using the R61, which forms part of the N2 via the toll plaza. The vehicles are barely moving,” said Lood Boshoff, who runs south coast Helicopter Services.

Meanwhile, scores of people were rescued from the roofs of their homes at Club Marina on Tuesday night.

Andrew Buchan (65), whose house is next to the river, said yesterday that his wife Yvonne (70), who is blind, woke him at about 11 pm on Tuesday night and told him she heard water running.

The force of the water broke the glass sliding doors of their house. “The water flung the furniture in the lounge towards me,” he said.

Buchan just had time to rescue their cat before he and his wife fled outside. He scrambled up a steep embankment and asked a neighbour at a higher-lying house to help him bring his wife to dry ground.

Another resident, Pam Anley (71), told how she broke a window and swam to safety.

Holidaymaker Gerhard de Nysschen of Winterton helped the National Sea Rescue Institute and police and paramedics to get people off roofs with his jet ski.

“One moment there would still be a washing line or the roof of a house and the next moment it would be under water,” he said.

At times, the police’s rescue team had to dive under water, break doors or burglar bars, or break open roofs to rescue those who were trapped. In the three hours it took to pick the people one-by-one from the roofs of houses, the water level rose by two metres.

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