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High praise for heroic teams involved in the greatest rescue operation in SA history

A search and rescue team uses a dog to search for bodies in Umbumbulu. Picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

A search and rescue team uses a dog to search for bodies in Umbumbulu. Picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Published May 5, 2022


Durban - Netcare chief executive officer Dr Richard Friedland has praised the untold tenacity, sacrifice and bravery of a highly committed and capable team of rescuers during the floods that devastated KZN last month.

“We have witnessed one of the most heroic search-and-rescue missions in the recent history of our country, as co-ordinated by the government, we have found ourselves in awe of the remarkable efforts made by people from all walks of life and all corners of the province in the face of overwhelming heartbreak,” Friedland said.

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“Until now many may mistakenly have doubted the ability of South Africa to cope with a disaster of this magnitude, and the scale of the rescue effort it would require. But the considerable effort on the ground has been phenomenal and the involvement of such a large rescue community has been nothing short of remarkable,” he said.

Craig Grindell, managing director of Netcare 911, noted that resources were pulled together from across the country in a fairly short space of time. “The resources represented various agencies and organisations, such as the South African National Defence Force, a number of provincial and private emergency medical services, the South African Police Services as well as many private search-and-rescue teams, among others.

“Those on the ground say that this was one of the biggest rescue operations ever seen in South Africa – even greater than the rescue effort launched in January 1984, when Cyclone Domoina wrought havoc all the way from Mozambique to Swaziland. As many as 242 people succumbed during that tropical storm, which brought the greatest deluge of rain in a century, with raging flood waters leaving chaos and destruction in their wake,” he added.

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During the most recent floods countless more lives have been lost, but many have been saved, not only by rescue teams, but also by ordinary members of the public.

“Since Monday, April 11, South Africa has pulled together one of the largest rescue efforts in recent memory locally, with the general consensus being that never before have we seen such a large team of rescuers working in tandem,” noted Grindell.

“On the aeromedical side considerable expertise has come to the fore with military, SAPS, private medical helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft having been deployed. People from all walks of life, including the young up-and-coming to well-known, highly experienced rescuers have joined the rescue effort. Support was also forthcoming from SAPS and private canine rescue teams from around the country, as well as from experienced lifeguards and ordinary members of the public who have stepped forward to volunteer their services.

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“Support initiatives by various NGOs such as Meals on Wheels, together with community involvement have been wholehearted and overwhelming, and have provided tremendous relief aid, which includes anything from supplying refreshments for the rescuers to getting water, food and perishables to those who have been impacted by the flood. Amidst the tragic circumstances there has been a most incredible response countrywide,” said Grindell.

In his address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa called for ‘all hands on deck’ in the wake of the floods. The men and women who left their families in their hundreds to join in the rescue and reconnaissance efforts pre-empted this call from the outset. They are an inspiration and a reminder of all that is good and just. Sadly, their rescue mission has since become one of recovery in order to help provide closure to the loved ones of those swept away by the floods.

Head of coastal operations at Netcare 911 Gary Paul and his colleagues – who have been hard at work playing a supportive and collaborative role along with the multiple other agencies in the search, rescue and retrieval operations throughout this time – were full of admiration for the ‘family’ of rescuers who were working as one in the most difficult of circumstances.

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Paul says the Netcare 911 team is proud to be part of the men and women who start their days with the South African anthem as they enter the field to offer a glimmer of closure to humanity and support to those affected. There is little talk or thought of sacrifice, as for them this is simply what they do, without hesitation or question.

“Netcare and Netcare 911 will continue to work as part of the team, and to offer medical services as the situation unfolds. For us it is a true honour and a privilege to stand alongside those at the coalface of the rescue and retrieval efforts who are demonstrating the true strength of humanity,” concluded Dr Friedland.

The Independent on Saturday