The Namibian (Windhoek)

9 May 2011

Namibia: Hikers Trapped in Canyon

A RESCUE operation is underway in the Fish River Canyon after 14 hikers became trapped by floodwater originating from the Hardap and Naute dams.

By yesterday, Ministry of Environment and Tourism rangers and volunteers had managed to extract two American citizens who formed part of the group.

The rescue operation began on Saturday after the missing group was located at the Four Finger Rocks emergency exit point, from which they were cut off by the strongly flowing Fish River.

A member of the rescue team confirmed the 12 people still trapped in the canyon are eight South Africans and four Czech Republic citizens.

The source confirmed that with the help of one canoe and several volunteers, the entire party should be extracted by the latest today. No names could be released by the time of going to press.

"We have to take them out one by one in the canoe. They are trapped on the riverbed. We have supplied them with food and water, and for the time being they are doing OK," the source said.

On Thursday, the tourism ministry announced the closure of the Fish River Hiking Trail with immediate effect after a sluice of the Hardap Dam was opened.

The closure came only days after the Fish River Hiking Trail opened officially for the winter season. Due to high temperatures and the threat of flash floods, the trail is closed during the summer months.

In a press statement, the ministry stated that the drastic measure was taken because of unpredictable flash floods due to heavy rains and the opening of the floodgates of the Hardap Dam.

The ministry said a sudden flood in the Fish River can create life-threatening situations for hikers trapped in the canyon.

The source yesterday said that the 14 hikers had already descended into the canyon by Thursday, and could not be located or warned of the closure of the trail. By Saturday, after they had already covered more than half of the 90-kilometre, five-day trail, they were caught without warning by the floodwater.

The Fish River Canyon is the second most visited attraction in Namibia, the biggest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world.

Southern Namibia has received the most rain since the 1930s this year.

Koeloes Lamprechts, a third-generation farmer on the farm Kub in the Maltahöhe district, said this weekend that his grandfather began keeping rain figures in 1917.

Since then, the highest rainfall year was 1934, when the farm received 545 millimetres, a record almost broken in 1976 when the farm measured 542 millimetres.

"Those were the top years until now". Since January, and including the past nine days of May, the Lamprechts have recorded 706 millimetres of rain.

The water table has risen so much that water is flowing freely from boreholes at the farmstead.

Although the water has caused some grass species in the veld to fall down and rot, Lamprechts said: "This is still much better than drought. We are very, very thankful."

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