Durban - An ER24 advanced life support paramedic and Durban branch manager recalled the horrors he witnessed when heavy rainfall and flooding engulfed KwaZulu-Natal last month.
On April 8 heavy rainfall began in KZN, which persisted for several days, leading to flooding, leaving more than 400 people dead and several thousand homes damaged and destroyed.
Willem Rossouw, advanced life support paramedic and ER24 Durban branch manager, responded to numerous incidents and recalled the horrors he witnessed.
Rossouw said for him, it started on Monday, April 11, 2022, at around 6pm. He had returned from a visit to the Pietermaritzburg branch. It had been pouring rain for the whole day.
“I received a call from SAPS Search and Rescue on my way home, asking if I could help them out, as they were already getting swamped with work. The incident occurred just around the corner from the branch on Caversham Road. The road made a dip down, then rose again. There used to be a little stream running underneath the road at the lowest point. What used to be a stream was a raging river by this time. A car had tried to cross the water, but the current had taken it and luckily pushed it against a lamp pole. With the help of a tow truck driver, I had managed to secure safety ropes to be able to cross the river and bring a family of four to safety,” Rossouw said.
He said that was only the start of things to come.
Later that evening he was called to a home in Westville, west of Durban, where residents needed rescuing from their homes. Fortunately, there were no injuries sustained during that incident.
“Then after midnight, the unthinkable happened. I received a distress call about a mudslide where the house was swept away. On arrival, other services were already on the scene. The whole house had been swept from the face of the earth. Except for a 17-year-old boy, all family had been accounted for. After an extensive search around the rubble where the house used to be, his body was found under the mud. Unfortunately, nothing could be done for him,” Rossouw recalled.
He said then on April 13, a provincial state of disaster was declared by the National Disaster Management Centre.
ER24 joined the Venue Operation Centre (VOC), set up at Virginia Air Base, with various role players, including the SAPS, SAAF, Rescue South Africa, Gift of the Givers, eThekwini Fire and numerous other private services. Emergency personnel were stretched to their limit, not only by the stresses placed on them during the rescues and incidents they attended, but also in a personal capacity, he said.
“Some of my staff members were severely affected during the floods. Some of their garages were flooded, and some had their backyards and driveways washed away. One staff member was living in one of the many areas that had been evacuated on the night of April 11. There were also staff members who had difficulty coming to work as the roads were flooded or washed away,” Rossouw said.
He said the stress that the emergency workers dealt with during this disaster can only be described as horrific. The staff had to work long hours, attending to numerous incidents where there was severe destruction and loss of life, but also had concerns about the safety of their families on their minds.
“There is no on or off switch to control feelings. However, the knowledge that what you are busy doing could make a difference in someone else’s life is enough to keep feelings at bay. I do think one of the biggest fears is those of the families of the staff members. Knowing that their loved one is running towards something others are running away from. This night, and the days after this, made me proud to do what I do and to work with such selfless, dedicated staff.
“Once everyone started to realise what was going on, and the magnitude thereof, all the services, from private to local municipality, government and private volunteers worked tirelessly to help those in need. Every one worked as one team, with one goal, regardless of the colour of the uniform. It was awesome to see services could work that well together,” he said.
ER24 thanked all the emergency services and personnel and the community for their hard work and dedication during the floods. ER24 counselling services are available to their staff to support them during these traumatic experiences.