Week of 6th to 13th February 2000
A week of what are thought to be the worst floods in living memory. We alone at our camp had some 250mm (10 inches) with at least double this having fallen higher up in the catchment.
With 70mm having fallen on Saturday night and for a while being stranded between 2 small river systems, that became major rivers, I decided we couldn’t risk going out working on Sunday night with it still raining, very wisely so. Another 70mm fell and we would definitely have been stranded on the eastern bank of the Sand river with nowhere for cover.
Monday morning I tried to get Annette and the kids out to White River, but on reaching the Msuthu river it was already in flood and no way of crossing. We returned to camp waiting for these flood waters to subside.
But that was just the beginning of it. The rain from 2 days ago in the catchment had now reached us. At 16h30 the water was at the highest previously known level in our camp. By 18h30 it had risen another 5 feet and was lapping at the doors in camp. We barricaded them with sand bags which kept the water out. Then reality set in that our camp and all my gear was at risk. It just never seemed possible that the water level could have even got to this height already. We started raising everything we could and all the camera gear was moved out onto the vehicles. Luckily the flood had reached its level and luckily again it had happened during the daytime. It was an amazing event to witness but terrifying at the same time. Everybody kept level headed and when the water started receding about 19h00 it was time to relax and enjoy another one of Annette’s great dinners. Panic over for now.
I had a rough night waking myself every 2 hours keeping check on the water level to be sure it wasn’t going to rise silently on us again.
Tuesday we spent most of the day drying out what we could in between the periods of rain.
Wednesday we had brief contact with the outside world again, (phone lines been down since Monday), and heard about the serious damage inflicted elsewhere in the area. Mala Mala had suffered little damage with the approaches being washed away from the bridges. They have been closed since, like all other lodges in the area, and are hoping to open again on the 19th. But the damage on the Sabi river was devastating. The house we used to live when my father was a game ranger in the Kruger National Park at the camp Skukuza, was up to the roof underwater along with some 30 other houses. Again the people were very fortunate that the flood came through around midday and everybody could see what was happening. Damage in Skukuza is estimated at some $10 million.
On Wednesday the rain had let up and Thursday morning we packed up and all left camp. The Msuthu river was still high, but we waded through with it being a little more than knee deep and got the vehicles through alright. Having successfully navigated our way out of the reserve on all the dirt roads through raging waters and mud slides we reached the tar road with a sigh of relief. Only another 80kms home and all on tar roads. The comfort of good roads was short lived when only 4kms down the way we started experiencing the full extent of the flood damage. A bridge had been washed away and we heard in the next 40kms there were another 2 bridges gone. So off it was at a slow slog on really badly maintained roads in the tribal areas. But out here in these rural areas the morale was still high even though people had lost their homes which were basically “dissolved” as the rain ate away at the mud. Young boys were out on the roads with shovels filling in areas with soil that had been eroded by the rains, so allowing traffic through that supplies them with all important food and goods from the neighbouring towns. Even 10 cents (American) to thank them for their help was received with huge appreciation. These simple road works were seen along the whole stretch of some 40kms and made the going substantially easier. Some 5 hours later, instead of one and a half hours, we were back at home.
Friday I had to head back to Mala Mala to sort out the camp hoping things had settled to almost normal. En route dropped in at David and Carol Hughes, (who film for National Geographic) where they live on the banks of the Sabie river, to take them food supplies as they’d been cut off from civilization since Sunday. The destruction to their house and belongings was hard to imagine. The water had reached roof level but luckily they had an upstairs level and managed to get some of their belongings and film up there, but they still lost plenty and lots of their camera gear was drowned. Once they’d secured what they could upstairs they managed to leave out through the roof swimming through the tree tops. With a rope as a life line they were able to get to ‘dry’ ground and somewhere safe for the night. I unfortunately couldn’t stay to help clean up.
Back at the Msuthu river I found it flowing strongly and decided to walk it first before trying to cross. It was deep and suddenly I was up to my waist in water. Next I was swept onto a rock by the strong current, but managed to hold on and from there drag myself out the river. Definitely too high to cross. Sitting on the river bank I slowly dried out as the water level started dropping. An hour and a half later the water had dropped substantially and I was able to cross back to my vehicle. Crossing now in the vehicle proved rather hairy as the water went over the bonnet and even in four wheel drive the vehicle drifted in the current. Back at camp all was fine but still no phone lines and no power. The Sand river had now dropped somewhat.
I had hoped to get back home on Saturday but that idea was short lived when around midday a downpour of 20mm in 5 minutes put paid to that as the Msuthu was surely flooded again.
Sunday was easy going and I got back home again. Time for a break but lots of business issues to sort out.