The floodwaters of the aManzimtoti River eroded the ground below the railway line, causing a train to derail and plunge down the river bank early yesterday. Pictures: supplied

Durban - Nine lives were saved on Tuesday morning when emergency personnel rescued a group of homeless people who were trapped in the middle of a river that had overflowed.

According to Netcare 911’s Chris Botha, the men and women were sleeping underneath Clairwood’s M4 bridge, which crosses the uMhlatuzana River. “They woke at 4am to find themselves surrounded by water. One told me later that he thought he was going to die.”

But their cries for help alerted onlookers who raised the alarm. The fire department was the first to respond and managed to pull one victim to safety using a rope. Paramedics and the search and rescue unit arrived soon afterwards.

“A rope rescue system was hung from the top of the bridge and the victims were hoisted, one by one, to safety,” said Botha. The rescue operation took more than an hour.

Meanwhile, rescue efforts were still under way last night to recover an unconfirmed number of people who were stranded on an island in the Umzinto River, south of Durban, after rains caused it to flood on Monday night.

Earlier reports suggested that seven people were trapped on the island, but according to Craig Lambinon of the National Sea Rescue Institute, authorities on Tuesday night thought there were only four.

Lambinon said the NSRI was alerted to the situation at 7pm on Monday night, when it received a request for assistance from the police search and rescue unit. The volunteer sea rescue duty crew sent rescue swimmers who worked tirelessly to recover the stranded, but to no avail. They had to retreat after conditions worsened. “It was impossible to get there,” Lambinon said.

Rescue efforts were resumed at first light when the police tried to reach the island using a helicopter, but conditions remained “extremely difficult”.

As of the afternoon, the NSRI had not been asked to continue the rescue and Lambinon could not comment.

The spokesman for co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Lennox Mabaso, said he, too, was unable to comment.

Reuters reports that 14 people were killed after a bridge collapsed in eastern Mpumalanga during heavy rains.

“The bridge was swept away and four cars just plunged into the water,” provincial safety spokesman Joseph Mabuza said.

The bridge was over a dry river bed, but flash floods fill it with water when it rains heavily. All the missing people were accounted for

. – The Mercury and Sapa