The SAPS chopper arrives on the banks of the Tugela River after flying to rescue a 92-year-old and two young girls who were trapped on an island in the middle of the river. Right: the rescued gogo makes her way to waiting family and friends. Pictures: Netcare 911.

A dramatic helicopter rescue operation at lunchtime yesterday saw a 92-year-old grandmother and two small girls miraculously escaping drowning in torrential floodwaters as they were plucked from an island in the middle of the Tugela River and flown to safety.

It is believed the three had been crossing the river in the morning, when they were caught on a tiny piece of land as the floodwaters raged around them.

Terrified, they stood on a sand bank for a couple of hours, until they were spotted by a community member who went for help.

Responding to a distress call from the Masinga area near Tugela, the SAPS Airwing and search and rescue unit and Netcare 911 rushed to rescue them.

Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha said they received the call for help around midday. “The mist was very thick along the river which made it dangerous as the helicopter pilot had to carefully navigate his way and fly the chopper under the mist. We flew very low along the river bed to try and find the trapped woman and children, who had been there since the morning.

“They were very lucky the storm waters did not rush over the island they were on,” said Botha.

Family and friends of the three had already gathered on the river bank and as the helicopter approached, they started shouting and waving frantically.

“The helicopter landed on the island and the woman and children were pulled into the helicopter,” said Botha adding that the three enjoyed their short ride.

They were hugged by overjoyed family and friends as they reached safety.

But the rescue was not yet over for the emergency personnel, as they spotted three more elderly women trapped on the opposite side of the river. They had also been prevented from getting home by the river.

The SAPS Airwing also airlifted them across the river.

Rescue personnel were also called to several vehicle accidents, in which several people died, in part blamed on the poor weather conditions. A major accident took place just outside Kokstad on the N2 freeway when a bakkie crashed into a gas tanker. Two occupants of the bakkie were burnt to death.

ER24 spokesman Derrick Banks said emergency staff arrived on the scene to find the tanker and the bakkie engulfed in flames.The truck driver was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

There was also a head-on collision near Mtunzini yesterday morning. One man died and another was fighting for his life last night after one of the vehicles burst into flames, while yesterday afternoon a woman, 29, walking along Blair Atholl Road in Westville was seriously injured when a driver lost control and the vehicle struck her.

She was taken to hospital in a serious condition.

And as the rain abated for the first time in three days, mopping-up operations continued yesterday.

Ethekwini Municipality spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said the emergency control and disaster management call centre had received a large number of calls from distressed residents.

Mofokeng said a number of people around Durban were forced to leave their homes because of heavy rain damage. In KwaNgcolosi and KwaNyuswa, which is situated in Ndwedwe, 29 people had been displaced and were receiving blankets and food parcels.

In Ntuzuma, four houses collapsed and four others were flooded.

Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesman Zinhle Mngomezulu said that there had been only one road closure in KZN yesterday – on the N11 near Ngogo and Majuba.

While the sun may come out today, Durban weather forecaster Lucky Makhwedzha said: “Completely clear skies can be expected tomorrow. The only areas where rain can be expected to continue is in the extreme northern parts of KZN.” - Independent on Saturday