21 January 2013

South Africa: Four Rescued, Two Still Missing in Nkomazi Floods

Photo: Aliyu Adekunle S/Vanguard
Flooding leaves many homeless.

Komatipoort — Mpumalanga police are still searching for a traffic officer and his passenger who went missing when the officer's state vehicle was washed away during floods in Nkomazi at the weekend.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Leonard Hlathi said police were called to the Tonga bridge when an ambulance, a traffic vehicle and a private car were washed off between 2am and 3am.

"We have managed to rescue four people but two are still missing," said Hlathi on Monday.

Hlathi said a South African Air Force helicopter airlifted two paramedics who had been in the ambulance and two people who were in the private car at about 9am.

"All the survivors managed to hold on to the trees until help came in the morning.

"At this stage, all relevant role players are currently dealing with the situation and the police's Water Wing will continue searching for those who are missing and the three vehicles," he said.

Joseph Magage, 29, said on Monday from his hospital bed, that the Nkomazi River was not that full when he first crossed the Tonga bridge on his way to Phiva Trust.

"It took me less than an hour to drive back. I did not realise the bridge was flooded until my car stopped and started moving sideways," said Magage.

He said he and fellow survivor, Philile Sibiya, 20, were washed off the bridge before they could escape from the car.

"We ended up holding onto a tree for the entire period until we were rescued at about 9am," said Magage.

Sibiya, who is also in hospital, was still too distraught to speak about the incident.

The two paramedics who were rescued from the flood, Thandanani Luphoko and Sipho Sithole, both from Tongaview, declined to speak to media on Monday.

Meanwhile, since the severe thunderstorms began on Friday evening, an 8-year-old boy is believed to have died in the Tonga area after being swept away by a local stream. He is still missing and police are still searching for his body.

A 67-year-old woman was also certified dead after her mud house collapsed on her.

Colonel Hlathi said three people were also certified dead after being hit by lightning in Piet Retief while the survivors were treated for smoke inhalation.

He warned residents in the province to be on alert of flash floods in their area.

"People must not try to cross flooded roads or bridges because according to the weather bureau, the rain is set to continue for few days so people should be extra careful in all circumstances," Hlathi said.

Mpumalanga Community Safety, Security and Liaison MEC Vusi Shongwe called on motorists, road users and local farmers to be careful.

"Let us be more vigilant and not underestimate the magnitude of these rains because most of the rivers around Nkomazi Municipality are already overflowing. We cannot therefore assume that we know the rivers and put our lives in danger by wanting to cross when they are clearly overflowing," said Shongwe.

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