Snow fight

2012-08-09 00:00

STRANDED passengers on two buses that were stuck in the snow cheered yesterday as their rescuers arrived to save them by helicopter.

The rescue party waded waist deep through icy snow to reach the passengers, motorists and truck drivers stuck in snow at Evatt, near Kokstad, yesterday.

An estimated 150 people, including about 30 children and babies, were “walked” through the snow in a “freezing, howling” wind, to a helicopter from the SA Air Force’s 15 Squadron.

They were flown to the Road Traffic Inspectorate premises in Kokstad.

Lieutenant Jack Haskins, of the SAPS search and rescue unit, said a couple on holiday were only too happy to “park off” in their caravan and enjoy being snowbound.

“A few truck drivers also decided to stay with their loads until the snow melts and they are able to continue to their destinations,” he said.

Haskins said the drivers were well equipped with blankets, food and heaters. He said they found two buses laden with passengers and other vehicles stuck in snow.

“Of the 30 children, only about six were able to walk; the rest were babies.

“About 150 people were flown out altogether. We waded out to them through the snow, walked them out to the helicopter and then ferried them to Kokstad in batches.”

Haskins said none of those rescued appeared to have suffered any serious effects from their night in the snow.

Also rescued were a couple and their six-month-old baby, whose vehicle was stuck in snow on the N3 near Mooi River toll plaza on Tuesday.

ER24 spokesperson Vanessa Jackson said the couple had run out of baby food and the father was asthmatic.

With an ER24 dispatcher in constant contact with the family, Pietermaritzburg paramedics eventually reached them yesterday. They were recouping at their home.

The contents of a cash-in-transit vehicle were also rendered secure by helicopter. Sister newspaper Die Burger was reliably informed yesterday that the vehicle, carrying R40 million, was on its way to pension payout points in Kokstad when it had to turn around because of heavy snow.

Worried about the money’s safety, the guards drove to a Matatiele police station. A private helicopter sent from Durban picked up the cash and three guards in the afternoon.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said five people who were snowbound in a chalet at Entsikeni near Umzimkhulu, including two staff, were airlifted by the SANDF.

Among the casualties attributed to the weather were an Education Department official who died in an accident near the Tongaat toll plaza yesterday morning, and a homeless man suspected to have died of hypothermia at Westville.

TrafficSA tweeted last night that the N3 between Estcourt and Mooi River was closed due to an accident, with traffic diverted to the R103.

Trucks were being stacked. There was no snow at Van Reenen’s Pass at 10.30 pm but there were patches of ice.

Provincial disaster manager Mthokozisi Duze said rescue operations were going well.

“We are planning to finish this operation by Friday, as it is still snowing,” he told The Witness from Swartberg just after midday.

The Greater Kokstad Municipality reported that about 50 people trapped in snow were rescued by helicopter yesterday and taken to a community hall.

“They were given food and blankets and will stay there until things get better,” said spokesperson Sabelo Ngwane.

He said many roads in the area were closed and some people were trapped outside town. But conditions eased during the day and allowed officials to make headway in rescuing people.

uMgungundlovu District Municipality manager Sbu Khuzwayo said Mooi River, Howick and Impendle were badly affected by the snow.

Teams were assessing the situation on the ground, he said.

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