Family recounts dramatic flash flood escape

2014-01-09 09:38
The Hugo family's car, which was damaged in a flash flood in the Karoo. (Die Burger)

The Hugo family's car, which was damaged in a flash flood in the Karoo. (Die Burger)

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Port Elizabeth - Stuck in a thorn tree, a family's prayers were answered when the flash flood that had washed their car down a normally dry Karoo ravine subsided minutes after it started, Die Burger reported on Thursday.

The drama started at about 02:30 on Wednesday on the N9, after a 200mm downpour in less than an hour.

A still shaken Barry Hugo, from Kloof, Durban, on Wednesday said he was travelling with his wife Ester, daughter Rencia, 22, and son Jonathan, 19, on the N9 about 18km outside Willowmore when he saw a pool of water over the road.

Hard bump

“I immediately slowed down. The water pushed high against the doors and suddenly there was a hard bump against the car,” said Hugo.

He said all he saw on his side of the car was a wall of uprooted trees and road barriers that had been wrenched up by the flash flood. On his wife’s side he just saw a deep chasm.

Seconds later the wall of debris had pushed their VW Jetta and trailer over the steep, six-metre embankment into a cauldron of water broiling with tree trunks. Hugo said he believed the trailer acted like a storm anchor to prevent the car from capsizing and spinning. “That was the first miracle.”

The second miracle was that they could open one of the car doors and climb out onto the roof as the car bobbed along with the flood.

They were praying hard when the car and trailer bumped into a thorn tree, but just as they thought they were safe, a truck tried to cross the same “puddle” and the force of flood summarily wrenched loose the trailer, sending the giant metal box careening to the family on their car’s roof.

“We knew if that thing hit us, we’d be dead. All four of us got into that thorn tree very quickly.”


Amid the thorns, with the water churning around them in the dark, they started praying aloud, asking God for a miracle.

Some 20 minutes later the flash flood had subsided as flash floods do, and the family could scramble up the steep, muddy bank to get back to the N2.

Hugo stopped a passing vehicle and called for help on a borrowed cellphone.

Willowmore’s emergency services were quick to the scene as well as farmers from the area. One of the farmers used his 4x4 to pull the truck-trailer out of the river bed.

Willowmore Mayor Ewald Loock said the stormwater drains could not cope with flash flooding and water had piled up a six-metre high dam next to the N9.

Hugo said his family had not yet experienced hospitality as was displayed by the residents of Willowmore.

When Hugo returned to the scene of the drama during daylight, he saw that his family’s nightmare river was just a dry ravine. He joked that he will never again believe stories of the “dry Karoo”.

The car is a write-off. The family were due to fly out of George airport.

Read more on:    george  |  port elizabeth  |  weather  |  floods

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