Umdloti woman pulled from quicksand of mud and sewage on eMdloti beach after fleeing flood.
“If I die, I don’t wish to go in red mud and sewage.”
These thoughts ran through Beverley Gibson’s head as she breathed the most awful smells, sinking into quicksand created by a mixture of mud and sewage on the beach below Umdloti’s storm-collapsed buildings.
Unable to make it past the damage and mess on the road on her way home after evacuating her workplace, she decided to take a quick detour along the beach.
Instead of the alternative route offering her a quick way home, it offered her quicksand and high tide.
“I sank like a stone,” she recalled yesterday, adding that as she tried to call for help, she went head first into the muck.
Managing to ease into a better seated position, she found that the more she tried to lift her legs, they more she sank.
“I screamed for help but there was nobody around.”
She still, however, had her cell phone, but it was full of mud and with her glasses missing, she couldn’t see much.
“I managed to dial Clive from the local hardware shop a message: ‘I am going to drown’. He usually never answers his WhatsApps but this time he did.
“He was in Ballito and, upon hearing I was in distress, sent out an SOS to all.”
Gibson said she was up to her neck in the muck when she saw a group of men approach her.
“They put a rope around my tummy and made a makeshift bridge from driftwood and metal across the sinking mud. Then they rolled me to where the sand was firmer.“
She recalled a moment of doubt and was not sure whether one of the group had come to her rescue, ”or if I was dying and it was the Archangel Michael. He had such beautiful blue eyes!”.
One of Gibson’s rescuers, Graham Stewart from Pietermaritzburg, had popped into Umdloti to see if the building in which he had once lived had survived last month’s floods.
“On the way there, a mudslide blocked my way. I got out. Next minute a man came up to me and asked me to help. Did I have a rope?
“We went down to the beach where I saw (Beverley) and it looked as if a landslide had gone over her.
”I couldn’t get to her myself without sinking. It was scary stuff.”
Stewart said he and the others who had gathered grabbed debris including driftwood and a straight pole to make a bridge.
“Once she was out, she got stuck again.
“I told her ‘roll’, which she did and then I walked her around.
“Three men who helped, and were clearly poor people, did not ask for a cent after the rescue operation.”
Gibson said she was deeply grateful to the men and to “Clive from Umdloti Hardware”.
“If it wasn’t for him sending out those SOS calls, and Graham and the other wonderful men who helped, I wouldn’t be here.”
The former medical secretary had been cashing up at her weekend job, a gift shop, when she started to see water seeping inside.
“My boss told me on the phone that I should put cardboard down and head home. I had come to work in my gumboots.”
One of her rescuers walked her off the beach from where she made her way home, only to find her key wouldn’t work and it took half an hour for her flatmates to surface from sleep.
“At first they laughed at me for being covered in mud.”
However, on hearing her story they helped her clean up and gave her strong coffee.
Since her ordeal, Gibson said another local had a similar experience, however not as dramatic.
“I have also been telling workers from La Mercy who were using the beach to avoid the quicksand. No barricades or warnings were put up.”
Gibson said she did not feel like walking on the beach again and is worried about the future of Umdloti, where she has lived for seven years.
The beach sand was deceptive, she said.
“It looked so hard but after only a few steps it was quicksand.“
The Independent on Saturday