Fatal flash flood in Weenen

2015-12-10 10:15
Pietermaritzburg police Search and Rescue Unit and the Pietermaritzburg K9 Unit stand on the banks of the Umtshezi River next to the bakkie that was swept from the bridge during a flash flood on Tuesday night. The distance of the car from the river s

Pietermaritzburg police Search and Rescue Unit and the Pietermaritzburg K9 Unit stand on the banks of the Umtshezi River next to the bakkie that was swept from the bridge during a flash flood on Tuesday night. The distance of the car from the river s (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - A Weenen man is dead and two people are missing after a powerful flash flood swept their vehicle off a bridge on Tuesday night.

With raging currents carrying debris and carcasses of dead farm animals down the Umtshezi River, police Search and Rescue teams were called out late on Tuesday night to search for three missing passengers of a bakkie that had been swept from the bridge it was crossing, but the current had overpowered low-level bridges just outside Weenen, making them impassable.

KZN police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane said the driver of the bakkie, Dumisani Mhlongo, was travelling back home from Weenen with six passengers when the incident occurred.

“As he tried to cross the low-level bridge that was in flood the vehicle was washed away. Four of the victims managed to get out of the vehicle and were rescued by community members.”

He said a search conducted by members of the Pietermaritzburg Search and Rescue and K9 units along the river for approximately five kilometres proved fruitless and the body of Thulani Mhlongo (35) was found by farm workers.

Zwane said the names of those still missing were Nyombenhle Mhize (35) and Ntombi Mhlongo (42).

Residents surrounding the scene said a “torrential storm” passed through the area on Tuesday night, and swept the bakkie from a low-level bridge.

“The water was gushing. We could hear trees cracking outside and we barricaded ourselves inside our house,” said one resident who would not be named.

The Witness tracked down Khabazela Mkhize, the brother of one of the missing passengers.

He said his sister, Ntombi Mhlongo, was the sole provider for five children and worked in a kitchen at a local farm.

“I have been searching for her since last night and now I am waiting outside the police station in agony until I hear anything about her recovery,” Mkhize said.

“I am very worried. The police found her clothes but not her.”

Other Weenen residents standing outside the police station said Tuesday night’s storm was the worst they have seen in more than 20 years.

Weenen Farmers’ Association president Sarel le Roux said that he and Thulani Mhlongo, who died in the flash flood, had been neighbours and that he was still trying to process the loss.

“I have known the Mhlongos since before I can remember. I am still grieving,” he said yesterday.

Le Roux said the storm was localised and had caused severe damage on the farms and to the land of surrounding subsistence farmers.

“There has been severe damage to the land and headlands of the bridges in the area,” said Le Roux.

“The damage to my farm from the storm on Tuesday night is around half-a-million rand.”

Le Roux said many of the subsistence farmers had lost their herds during the storm, with many of them too weak from the drought to fight against the strong currents.

“There are just dead animals everywhere. If you looked down the river this morning, all you saw was rushing water carrying their carcasses.

“I have never seen the Umtshezi river so full in my life,” he said.

He said potato fields, peanut fields and an irrigation system had been destroyed in the storm and that a pump station had also collapsed during the torrential rain on Tuesday night.

When The Witness arrived in Weenen yesterday, municipal contractors had been removing heaps of mud from a low-level bridge near where the vehicle was carried off.

Construction workers were adding concrete stones to the road to strengthen the roads leading to the bridge which was washed away, making the route to the accident scene inaccessible.

Debris was found scattered across the river banks and large puddles of knee deep water had collected on the road sides.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

A MOOI River boy is lucky to escape with his life yesterday when he was rescued after being trapped between two raging streams from a dam wall that had reportedly burst nearby.

The 12-year-old boy was found standing on a small bank with the water rushing furiously around him.

ER24 spokesperson Russel Meiring said the incident had occurred near Bruntville.

“It is understood that the banks of the nearby dam had burst, causing the streams to overflow and trapping the young boy,” said Meiring.

“Paramedics and fire services immediately set out utilising one of the long ladders from the fire truck to reach the child.

“Once the child was brought to safety, paramedics assessed the boy and found that he had escaped without injuries,” he said.

AMIDST the devastation of the flash floods hitting parts of KwaZulu-Natal, there is one ray of light. Farmers are now able to start planting their crops.

KwaZulu-Natal Grain South Africa Paulpietersburg representative Ralf Küsel said some areas had experienced good rain in the last few weeks and some farmers had already started planting their maize crops.

“The situation has improved dramatically from two weeks ago,” he said.

“Most farmers are planting their crops now, especially in the northern and western parts of KZN such as Bergville, Winterton and Newcastle.

“The planting was supposed to be finished in November, so we are a month behind but its better late than never and it is definitely good news for farmers,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  flood

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