The N1 running through the small town of Laingsburg was closed off this morning as the river broke its banks and flooded the highway. The residents live in constant fear that history will repeat itself after the town was destroyed by floods in 1981. Pictured: The Buffels River bridge on the outskirts of Laingsburg as seen from a nearby koppie. Picture: Willem Law.

The floods that hit the Western Cape last week are expected to cost farmers millions after their crops and equipment were washed away by coursing stormwater.

While a formal assessment of the devastation left in the aftermath of three days of torrential rainfall was set to be conducted this week, Agri-Wescape chief executive Carl Opperman expected the damage to match or even eclipse that of the 1981 floods.

It was the year in which the small Karoo town in Laingsburg was submerged after the Buffels, Wilgenhout and Baviaans rivers broke their banks, and elsewhere, farms as far away as the Overberg region and Swellendam were awash with stormwater.

Last week Laingsburg was spared, but farmers across the province found themselves blocked off from the highways after swollen rivers burst flooded gravel roads.

Yesterday, most farms in the Karoo were still cut off.

Raging waters had not only brought down telephone and electricity cables, but had also damaged cellphone towers, said Opperman.

“It means we don’t really know what it looks like out there.”

But a few farmers in Laingsburg have braved the waterlogged gravel roads. When they arrive in town their stories paint a grim picture of what should have been a successful month of harvesting.

For every farmer who has only lost a few fences, another has lost entire crops of onions or carrots.

“There is one farmer who has lost over 7 000 trees,” said Opperman.

A reconnaissance flight conducted by provincial disaster management has revealed that it is mainly the small- to medium-sized commercial farms that have been affected by the floods.

Opperman said these farmers would really feel the damage, with a single crop separating them from profit and bankruptcy.

With the last remnants of floodwater expected to subside today, the province’s disaster management spokesman Colin Deiner said they would be moving into the affected areas to survey the damage and provide aid where required.

Opperman said the next question was whether they would have to approach the National Treasury to cover some of the non-insurable damage.

“During the previous floods in 2007, 2008 and even last year, nothing was done about a lot of the damage to roads and infrastructure.

“Every time it floods it’s damage on damage, and the impact becomes greater.”

Meanwhile, the body of 56-year-old Vincent Burwane, who fell into a river in Robertson, has been found.

Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said the man had been last seen falling from the town’s Adderley Street bridge into the fast-flowing river below. - Cape Argus