All-out rescue in flood-stricken Limpopo

2012-01-18 23:35
Johannesburg - Almost 150 people were plucked from the roofs of their submerged houses and others from trees where they'd been trapped after torrential rain in the Hoedspuit area in Limpopo, where up to 300mm of rainfall was measured.

The air force, police, emergency services and private helicopters had been involved in the rescue.

Two Oryx helicopters had been used to rescue 60 pupils who'd been trapped at two schools in the Buckbuckridge area, said air force spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton.

"The bridge between the air force base and the town has been washed away, and several roads are impassable," air force Paxton said.

"There is a lot of water and there are a lot of areas flooded after heavy rainfalls over the past two days, but especially yesterday.

"We then embarked on search and rescue operations with helicopters and we rescued people from either islands or treetops, or the roofs of houses and we evacuated them to safety to the air force base in Hoedspruit."

Poor light had grounded the choppers, but he said the rescue operation would resume at first light on Thursday.

The SA Weather Service (Weather SA) said  that heavy rainfalls will ease on Thursday in Limpopo.

Weather SA's Elizabeth Webster told News24 that there was a 60% chance of rain for Limpopo on Thursday and it was "unlikely" that the heavy rains would persist.

Safety first

Earlier in the day, the Kruger Park issued an urgent warning that gates and roads have been closed as a result of rainfall.

"The most important thing is to avoid all gravel roads in the Kruger National Park... We have issued a statement this morning to warn people about the water situation. Crocodile Bridge is closed because the bridge is overflowing.

"We have closed Phalaborwa Gate as well, and bridges leading to Letaba and Mopani camps are overflowing at this stage."

Visitors to the park should contact the public relations office to ask about the condition of the roads they intended using.

In Mpumalanga, provincial community safety department spokesperson Joseph Mabuza said drivers should be extremely careful.

"We received reports that some of the bridges have been affected by rains, so we request all road users to be cautious when using the roads.

If a driver sees water on a bridge or near a bridge that is partially submerged, we request they assess the situation, whether it is safe to cross, and if there is any doubt, they must not use the bridge and find an alternative route."

Mabuza said heavy rains often created pot holes, which led to accidents as drivers tried to avoid them.
Read more on:    saws  |  sanparks  |  polokwane  |  mbombela  |  weather
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