Durban flash floods: heartache and a hero

The car that Priscilla Pillay was driving was found in a stream in Silverglen on Monday.

The car that Priscilla Pillay was driving was found in a stream in Silverglen on Monday.

Published Jul 27, 2016


Durban - As one family grieves the loss of a loved one swept away in Monday’s flash floods in Durban, another is thanking a teenage “guardian angel” for a dramatic, heroic rescue.

The torrential downpour left a swath of destruction around the city, including in Umhlatuzana, Chatsworth where part of an outbuilding caved in, landing a mother in hospital and leaving her shocked husband and young daughter counting their blessings after escaping unscathed.

But the storm had a tragic ending for the Pillays of Unit 5, Chatsworth.

Mother-of-two Priscilla Pillay, 48, had been heading home from work when her car washed away near a stream in Silverglen on Monday night.

The stream had burst its banks, flooding the area locals know as Reddy’s Corner, named after a takeaway there.

Pillay’s mangled car was found but there had been no sign of her until Tuesday morning, when her body was retrieved from the muddy waters about 1km away.

Her distraught brother Raymond said from the scene that he had refused to lose hope before then, believing his sister was alive.

Priscilla had worked at Kharswastan Pharmacy and Silverglen Drive was part of her daily commute, he said.

She lost her husband nine months ago and lived with her son and daughter.

Her son Durelle, 27, declined to comment.

Other family members who gathered at the scene on Tuesday described Priscilla as a good family person who always had a smile on her face.

“Everyone loved her,” said Raymond.

He expressed gratitude towards the community which spent hours searching for his sister.

Bottle store owner Kevin Reddy, who was mopping up the mess in his nearby shop, described Monday’s floods as “pretty hectic”.

“The river burst its banks and there was water flowing from all the roads into this stream,” he said. “I saw the car floating. One guy tried to drive through... but his car stalled.”

Shaun Hammond of the Silverglen Self-Help Committee said: “We were already attending to two washaways when we were alerted to this incident.

“The vehicle was recovered and was mangled, and search and rescue had to withdraw as the current was too fast for them to get in.”

Hammond said people continued to search until 2am on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, La Mercy mother of three Shakila Singh said she owed her life to a young man who rescued her from her car during Monday’s downpour, after he waded through chest-high water and got her out of her Hyundai i20, which had stalled and was floating in the icy water.

But her rescuer, who she heard was a Grade 11 pupil and lifeguard, had disappeared into the crowd after bringing her to safety.

Recounting her harrowing ordeal, Singh said she had left home at around 5pm to pick up her daughter, who worked in uMhlanga, and on the M4 had come across several puddles on the road.

The traffic, she said, was bumper to bumper as the rain pelted down.

“I took the La Lucia off-ramp and was driving under the bridge when I saw a slight stream. I didn’t think much about it as I had already driven through several of these on my way to pick up my daughter,” said Singh, who added there were no other cars in sight in this area.

The water only reached the undercarriage of her car, but, within seconds, all that changed.

“My car then stalled. I tried to reverse but I couldn’t. I don’t know where the water suddenly came from but my vehicle was floating around and even hit the side of the bridge,” she said.

“I tried to turn the steering wheel but had no control over the car. I couldn’t even open the door because the pressure of the water kept it shut.”

Singh said the water was almost to the level of her windscreen and seeping inside.

“I opened the window and water gushed in. I had to then close it,” said Singh, who began to panic.

“All of sudden, I saw a young shirtless man standing at my passenger side window. I don’t know where he came from. He asked me to open the window and I told him the water would enter, but he was calm and encouraged me to do so. When I did, he told me to hand over my belongings to him, which I did.

“He then waded over to his father, who was standing nearby, and handed these over to him before returning. He said he was going to try to open the door and after struggling at first, he managed to get it open.

“Water immediately began to gush inside. He said Come out, I got you’. I was hesitant but did as he asked. I moved from the driver’s side to the passenger side and he carefully got me out.”

Singh said the icy water, which had reached his chest, was up to her shoulders.

“I managed to stand and he guided me through the water to his father. I was concerned about his safety as well, but his dad said Don’t worry, he’s a lifeguard’. By this time I was frozen and hysterical.”

She said by then people had gathered around to comfort her and someone placed a jacket over her shoulders as she was shivering.

“Others had offered for me to sit in their cars but I was concerned I was going to get them wet,” she said.

“You know, we say we live in a country where people don’t care, but in a situation like this, there were people of all races who were trying to help me.”

Singh said she started looking for the father and son to thank them but they had disappeared in the crowd.

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