Aftermath of Cape Town Flooding

More details have emerged regarding the flash-flooding which occurred near the City of Cape Town on Friday night 15 November 2013, tales of heroism and heartache that echo the plight of all those threatened with disaster by rising floodwaters. Although paling in comparison with the recent experience of the people of the central Philippines, each death is a tragedy, and each rescue is a triumph.

The National Sea Rescue Institute is South Africa’s equivalent of the RNLI in Britain and the German DLRG, and is entirely staffed by volunteers. Its role is largely to do with coastal maritime search and rescue, but, as this weekend demonstrated, the volunteers have to be ready for just about anything.

As was reported on Saturday, the Vergelegen Hospital in Somerset West, which is a single-storey building, was flooded and all 127 patients had to be evacuated. Each ambulance had to be escorted by a NSRI team to ensure safety through flooded streets.

Flooded hospital entrance, Cape Town. Photo:
Flooded hospital entrance, Cape Town. Photo:

Apart from the hospital evacuation, the NSRI undertook 80 ferrying trips to help people across the flooded Riviersonderend River, assisting prison warders (including a warder’s pregnant wife on her way to hospital), 70 wedding guests, and a group of 10 people attending a christening. One report is of a newborn baby that, soon after its birth in a local clinic, had to be evacuated with its mother to another hospital.

Three people died in two separate incidents during the floods. A 28-year old man drowned while attempting to cross the flooded Breede River near Stellenbosch, and a car containing two women was swept off a bridge by rising floodwaters in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. The body of one of the occupants was found trapped in the car, whilst the other occupant was swept downstream. Authorities suspended the search for the missing woman on Saturday owing to continued heavy rainfalls. On Sunday, the church group she belonged to took up the search and found the body of Nosipho Gxagxisa, a teacher and gospel singer, after three hours of cold and dangerous searching.

Floods in Cape Town, South Africa. photo;
Floods in Cape Town, South Africa. photo;

In a separate incident, a family was rescued from a car that was caught by floodwaters on the same bridge.

South African school-leavers are writing their final year-end matriculation examinations at this time and the provincial Education Department spokesperson has said that the focus is on getting learner’s to their examinations despite widespread road closures. Spokesperson Bronagh Casey said that if any pupils were unable to reach their examination centres in flood- affected areas, they would be accommodated at alternative centres or else, where necessary, arrangements would be made with emergency services to help themiii.

Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town reported that it had spent R3m (US$300 000) on social relief for the approximately 18 000 people around Cape Town that were affected by flooding. The Agriculture and Rural Development ministry spokesman stated that some farmers in the region had estimated that up to 80% of their crops had been destroyed by the severe weather.

Cape Town Residential Street Underwater. Photo:
Cpae Town Residential Street Underwater. Photo:

Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, extended her “deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones as a result of the flooding experienced throughout the city this weekend”. She said that although emergency services had been allocated to areas identified as most likely to be affected by Friday’s rains, “the magnitude of the floods and our stretched resources meant we were not always able to assist all residents as quickly as we wanted to. To this end” she added, “we are grateful to all residents and community organisations who offered their assistance under very difficult conditions to ensure that we provided social relief to as many affected residents as practically possible”.