Limpopo - When Precious Nare went into labour during the rain, she thought an ambulance would come to her aid. She thought she would deliver her baby with the assistance of medical staff at the local hospital.
But baby Elson was born in the back of a mud-trapped bakkie after his mother endured a horror trip across a flooded river in a canoe.
In contrast with a story which had a happy ending is the tragedy of the Malithuba family of four from Musina who were swept away when their vehicle plunged into a raging river from a bridge destroyed by floodwaters.
Two passengers were hospitalised.
To date, at least 10 people have been reported dead in Limpopo, four from Mopani and six from Vhembe. Nearly 100 people were rescued in the Kruger National Park.
On Tuesday, speaking from the Musina agricultural hall, where hundreds of flood survivors have been sheltered, Elson’s dad, Elson Toma, described the harrowing ordeal of his family.
The couple were at their home in the San Marina informal settlement near Musina when it started raining just after midday on Sunday. They weren’t worried until Nare went into labour at about 3pm.
Toma called the ambulance, only to be told an hour later that it could not reach his home because the roads were flooded.
“I panicked and thought to myself, ‘what now?’ I tried my bestto remain calm for Precious’s sake.”
Toma said they set out on foot, but when they got to the river near their home, a tributary of the Limpopo they usually walked through, they realised they would never make it across alive.
Toma approached a farm owner, who suggested they use his canoe to cross the river.
“At some stage I thought we were going to die, and all I could think of was to save the life of my baby,” he said.
When the couple reached the other side of the river, they stopped a passing bakkie and offered the driver R500 to take them to hospital.
“The surface of the road was not visible and the bakkie was sliding off the road, and then it got stuck in the mud.
“Precious was on the back seat, screaming and I was panicking. I did not know what to do, and the next moment I heard a baby cry.”
The trip to the hospital, which would usually take about an hour, had taken the couple almost five hours.
Nare was discharged from the hospital on Monday, and Elson jr is happy and healthy.
Meanwhile, when the Mutale River burst its banks, villagers of Bennde Mutale – which is next to the Kruger National Park’s Pafuri Gate in Limpopo – did not hesitate to brave the raging current to save the life of a fellow resident who had to climb on to the roof of her home to escape.
Pafuri River Camp manager Martin Fouché who was part of the rescue team said: “The villagers of Bennde Mutale streamed out in heavy rain early on Monday to rescue a fellow resident, Sarie Landman, who was in imminent danger of being swept away by the flooding Mutale River.
“The area had received more than 500mm of rain during the past week.
“Landman’s house had been isolated when the river burst its banks, with water eating away at the foundation on both sides of the house. As she climbed on to the roof the walls began cracking.
“A few villagers gathered and stared at the raging current.
“Thomas Takelani went about 200 metres upstream and plunged into the water. He was soon swept off his feet and swam furiously, eventually getting across the river near her house.
“Later two more villagers followed suit, but it was obvious that the current was too strong for Landman to swim across.
“Ropes were sent for and I decided to take one end across. The drag of the rope in the current made swimming very difficult but I eventually made it to the other side.
“The rope was attached to a 50mm water pipe, which was pulled across to provide a handhold for Landman, and she was brought to safety through the raging waters.
“Village leader Nelson Baloyi had been one of the first to arrive and co-ordinated some of the rescue attempt.
“When the water began rising rapidly, we knew Sarie could be in danger.
“We were very worried as she has lived here alone for three years and is one of our community.”
The water kept rising and that night the walls of the house. The torrent Landman’s car. The villagers returned when the water level dropped and eventually dragged the car to safety too. The villagers’ houses are much further from the river but many of them were damaged.
Sisters Catherine and Ruth Sematla believe they shouldn’t be alive today.
They were among more than 50 farmworkers in Musina who spent more than 48 hours clinging on for dear life to a large farming implement to escape the raging floods after the torrential downpour that wreaked havoc in parts of Vhembe and Mopani districts in Limpopo.
People sought safety on rooftops and high-lying ground as houses collapsed, trees were uprooted and rivers burst their banks, destroying roads.
Catherine and Ruth’s farm, Dienstaat, is on the banks of the swollen Limpopo. They watched in terror as the raging river burst its banks on Saturday.
It was 6pm and getting darker, but the downpour was relentless. The water level kept rising.
The workers – mostly women, some with their babies strapped firmly to their backs – started climbing onto a potato-cleaning machine to escape the deluge.
It would be their haven for the next 48 hours.
They were rescued by a police chopper on Monday afternoon after Catherine had phoned her brother to raise the alarm.
“We thought we were going go die. We had no food, no baby milk, no nappies or water. We were hungry and cold,” said Ruth.
More than 300 survivors are being accommodated at a hall in the Musina showgrounds – 181 were rescued by Monday, while another 76 were saved in the early hours of yesterday, according to officials.
The 300 had survived – but were very short of food and were hungry.
“We arrived here on Monday evening, but we only had food at 10am today (yesterday).
“It’s almost 3pm but we still haven’t eaten anything. It’s tough,” said Catherine.
Provincial disaster management spokeswoman Dieketseng Diale said a joint operations committee had by yesterday distributed 240 food parcels, 20 additional tents and 275 blankets in Vhembe.
Limpopo has recommended that the flood-hit Vhembe district be declared a disaster area, it was reported on Wednesday.
Co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs MEC Clifford Motsepe made the recommendation, reported The New Age newspaper.
District municipality spokesman Matodzi Ralushai said: "The process of officially declaring the place a disaster area could be done any time now.
Damage assessment was still underway.. – Additional reporting by Paul Fauvet and Lyneve Cook
Pretoria News, The Star, Sapa