DURBAN – Search-and-Rescue teams have been stretched to their limits in KwaZulu-Natal over the past three weeks as they rescued victims and recovered the bodies of those who died in the devastating floods that recently hit the province.
SAPS Search-and-Rescue, along with the Metro Police Search-and-Rescue and private rescue teams have been working long hours to bring a sense of closure to families.
The teams have been working out of Virginia Airport.
Rescue teams said they were currently focused on recovery operations, and the toughest part to deal with was the recoveries of children’s bodies.
The teams were also hit with a tragedy of their own as Pietermaritzburg SAPS diver Sergeant Busisiwe Mjwara, and police dog Leah, drowned while conducting a search in the Msunduzi River for three flood victims.
Garrith Jamieson, spokesperson from Advanced Life Support paramedics, said: “The hardest part is when children are recovered. Most medics have children at home and this hits hard. Fortunately there is a lot of emotional support for all rescuers, and a good support structure all around.”
Metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said their officers had been working with various teams.
“It really has been a joint effort with the Fire Department and various search-and-rescue teams.
“It has been emotionally disturbing as a lot of the metro officers involved have children and it’s not easy to recover bodies, especially of young children.
“In times like this you need to have a passion for the job and be dedicated. The team spirit in this operation is so important.”
Sewpersad added that the work was difficult, but thinking of families that have relatives missing because of the floods is what keeps the officers motivated to carry on.
“We keep going, as we know there are families who don’t know what has happened to their loved ones. The recovery of the bodies of loved ones brings closure to families, as they need to know what happened. But it is also unfortunate to bring closure in this way, in the recovery of bodies.”
Andreas Mathios, a Pinetown community activist who has been actively involved in the search-and-rescue operations since the floods, said that the support of the community kept teams motivated.
“The community has been supportive and they have been providing food parcels to search-and-rescue teams during their shifts. The support keeps teams motivated to keep going to find and recover people who are unaccounted for.”
Mathios added that there had been camaraderie among search-and-rescue teams.
“At the end we want to do our best to bring closure to families. We have a job to do. The search-and-rescue teams are professionals and they are able to deal with the trauma. The job is dangerous and there are various challenges. In the end, we want to make a difference to all affected families.”
Shawn Herbst, Netcare 911 spokesperson, said that the process of recovering bodies had taken its toll on emergency workers. For Netcare911 staff, he said they had a support group through the Netcare group.
“It gives us more than enough support which includes emotional support and psychological support.”
Herbst added that there were also services available at Virginia Airport.
“There are psychologists, along with other people with various medical qualifications, who are available to counsel all the emergency members involved in this operation.
“Otherwise the guys are doing well. They understand that there is a specific protocol that they have to follow, and they know what they are doing. They have done it before, just not on such a large scale, but the guys are coping,” he said.