YOLANDE DU PREEZ and LEBOGANG SEALE
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.
Yesterday, 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 best to 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.
“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 takes 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, 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 ground 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.
Meanwhile, the Mozambican government yesterday declared a red alert for the southern and central provinces of the country, following alarming rises in the levels of several of the major rivers, threatening serious flooding.
The most serious situation is in the Limpopo Valley in the southern province of Gaza.
The rising Limpopo waters are threatening to reach the catastrophic flooding of 2000, when the level of the river at Chokwe reached 10.54m. This might be reached again. – Additional reporting by Paul Fauvet
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