When a normal day turned into a nightmare

2014-05-13 00:00

NOTHING prepared farmer Donna Lay for what she witnessed yesterday morning — a bakkie lost in a dam and surviving children who had been packed in it screaming among their dead friends.

She had arrived at the tragic scene moments after receiving a phone call that there had been an accident near her, in a sludge dam at the Elsmore dairy farm in Riet­vlei between Mooi River and Greytown.

There the bakkie driver, who was arrested and cannot yet be named, had allegedly lost control of his vehicle carrying 30 local school children between the ages of seven and 17 and had plummeted into the muddy waters.

The children were on their way to the Senzokuhle High School and the Tauricus Primary School near Mooi River. What would become a nine-hour rescue and recovery effort was unfolding and by last night five of the children had been confirmed dead.

Speaking to The Witness at the scene, Lay said, “I got a call just after 7 am informing me that there had been an accident.”

She had dropped everything and rushed to the scene. “When I got to the scene I could not see the vehicle because it had been submerged in the sludge dam and kids were screaming for help just outside the sludge dam,” she said.

Lay said most of the children had managed to swim out of danger but some were still missing.

“I had to move the children away from the scene to avoid them being further traumatised by seeing the dead bodies of those who had drowned,” she said.

She said farm workers and other farmers worked together in assisting the children get warm because they were freezing after they had been submerged.

“We got blankets and we organised tea to keep them warm while we waited for paramedics and rescue workers to arrive,” she said.

Lay said that time seemed to slow down as they waited for ambulances.

She said they also organised a back-end loader which was doing road construction nearby to open the dam wall to remove water so that they could recover the bodies of the five children who drowned.

“Those children who were sent to hospital were highly traumatised,” she said.

Lay, tired and dirty after her hard work, said, “It is going to take a long time for me to forget about this tragic accident,” she said.

Lay said in the 10 years she had lived in Rietvlei she was not aware there was a sludge dam there because it was not visible from the road. Lay said the Department of Transport should also investigate why the drains on the road had not been completed and why there were no guard rails on the side of the gravel road to prevent such accidents.

Lay also said the accident was waiting to happen since the Department of Education had not organised a bus to ferry the children to school.

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