Al-Imdaad Foundation
19 Jan 2012

Heavy Rain, flooding hits Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces

19 January 2012 Hundreds of people, including primary school children, left destitute and stranded by days of heavy rain and flooding in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, have been plucked to safety by air force and police helicopters. The two-day high-risk aerial and ground rescue, which has developed into a humanitarian relief mission, was launched after rain deluged large sections of the eastern parts of the country and Mozambique earlier this week. Rivers burst their banks, flooding large tracts of land in low-lying areas. Pilots and aircrew from the SA Air Force’s 17 and 19 helicopter squadrons in Pretoria and Hoedspruit took off on Wednesday to lift scores of people to safety from parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park, where several tourists were washed away in their cars or trapped overnight. The floods have left three people seriously injured and compelled authorities to shut the Kruger park’s border posts. Although flood waters began to subside on Thursday, the airlifts and ground operations continued. Police in Casspirs crossed flooded rivers repeatedly to reach trapped villagers, often bringing them across on the roofs of the armoured vehicles because of the height of the water, while civilians rescued people trapped in two buses. Civilians used private helicopters and specialised off-road vehicles to rescue guests stranded at game lodges in and around the Kruger park. In scenes reminiscent of the 2000 floods that struck Mozambique, this week’s rescue saw mothers with young children being airlifted from trees and the tops of partially submerged houses. The rescue was not without risks, however. A flight engineer from Hoedspruit’s 19 Squadron fractured a leg while trying to rescue a mother and her child from a tree. The injury compelled the pilot of the Oryx helicopter to abandon the rescue, winch the injured sergeant-major on board and fly him to hospital. The woman and her child were later rescued by the crew of a police helicopter, air force spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Piet Paxton said. Paxton said the rescue mission had been intense. Pilots and aircrew went to the aid of 53 primary school children trapped by rising flood waters at their schools in the Acornhoek area of Bushbuckridge. Six helicopters rescued people from trees, tops of buildings, stranded vehicles, partially submerged houses and land cut off by rising waters, he said. “The airlift rescue, which had to be called off several times, has been extremely dangerous. Adverse weather conditions have made getting to some people very difficult. But, despite these trying conditions our aircrew have persisted in aiding as many people as possible, often putting their own lives in danger.” Describing some of the rescues, Paxton said an Oryx helicopter crew had rescued a family, who included a young child, from a steep valley where they had been hiking near the Blyde River Dam wall. He said 130 villagers, 40 of them children, were airlifted to safety from Moloro Village near Bushbuckridge to Bolang Village. “This was done as a preventive measure after fears arose of the potential of more flooding,” he said. Paxton confirmed that an Oryx flight engineer had fractured a leg while trying to rescue a mother and her child. “He is in a serious but stable condition waiting to be flown to 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. “Fortunately the aircrew from a police helicopter were able to rescue the mother and her child.” Paxton said the search and rescue mission had evolved into a humanitarian relief mission. “We will now be lifting food and water supplies to villages in remote areas cut off because roads have been washed away. “We have not received any more calls (for rescues), although we airlifted 26 people from an area that was potentially unsafe.” Limpopo police spokeswoman Ronel Otto said that the province’s search and rescue teams had been activated. They included divers and K9 unit members. “Police from stations in the affected areas have all been called up to help with the rescues and are assisting “Limpopo’s disaster management personnel in reaching communities cut off by flood waters.” More than 200 people had been rescued by police, air force and disaster management personnel and by civilians, Otto said. Limpopo Disaster Management spokeswoman Tseng Diale said the injured had been taken to the Hoedspruit Military Hospital. She said 13 major roads had been extensively damaged, along with several bridges, cutting off entire villages. “As soon as the water levels decrease an assessment of the damage will be done. We are appealing to communities to assist us in the cleaning up operations,” she said. South African National Parks chief executive David Mabunda said: “Of the 1 800 guests in the Kruger park 80, including 10 staff members, were evacuated. “Four tourists were trapped in their car overnight and were rescued, while six tourists were washed away in their car near the Hamilton’s tented camp while crossing a low bridge. “They were not seriously injured and were taken to the Nelspruit Hospital. “Sixty tourists, including foreign guests, were trapped in camps and lodges around the park. They all are safe.” Mabunda said 80 percent of the park was functional, but the biggest problem was the availability of water as most pumps had been washed away, as had some sections of tarred road. “No animals have been killed or hurt. Our anti-poaching operations are continuing, and SANDF members are still protecting the borders.” Weather forecaster Edwin Thema said rains would continue in the Lowveld, with a 30 percent chance of rain on Friday, but there was no chance of rain falling in Limpopo or Mpumalanga over the weekend. – Courtesy of Pretoria News
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