This week’s flash floods throughout Tshwane and surrounds are the worst wash of flood-related rescue incidences for the summer season in living memory, according to rescuers on the ground.
The Off-Road Rescue Unit (ORRU)*, who assisted with the Centurion Lake Hotel airlifts on Monday and numerous other rescues after 700 informal settlement dwellings were washed away in Mamelodi, described the flash floods as the most unusual ones for more than a decade.
“In January 2008, there were incidents which were very similar to the Pretoria flooding we had this week,” said National Coordinator for ORRU Ivor Rimmer. “If anything, we are doing more flood-related rescues this December. What happened this week certainly isn’t usual for this time of year.”
According to Rimmer, this may be the earliest bout of flash flood-related rescues in the 30 years, since ORRU was founded.
“I cannot remember that we were ever called out for this type of flood-related incident this early in the season,” he said. “Usually, the floods start late January or February, when the ground is saturated from the summer rains.”
The Tshwane flash floods have been the most dramatic of a series of incidences in the past week. Other floods throughout Gauteng, the Free State region and part of the North West province have also been reported.
Rimmer ascribed the early nature of the flooding to changes in climate and said that there were large unknowns on the horizon in terms of weather patterns to come.
“What does this mean? Have we had our annual rainfall in one week? Is it that because we have had flash floods in December, we will not experience flash floods late January or February as per weather patterns in prior years? We simply do not know.”
Sharon Paterson, Chief Executive Officer of Infiniti insurance – who together with Galileo risk Insurance Solutions is a sponsor of ORRU – urged those in affected areas to work closely with the rescue teams and to remain supportive of each other in such difficult and dangerous circumstances and throughout the recovery period. “Infiniti Insurance and Galileo Risk remain committed to providing support through our association and direct involvement with ORRU,” she pledged.
As a volunteer group, the ORRU search and rescue efforts are by ordinary, everyday people for ordinary, everyday people. “We get up and go to work every day as regular people do and when the call comes in to assist, we pool our resources, calling on ORRU members whose vehicles are always readily equipped for action and who are placed closest to the situation in the affected area, to attend to the emergency, explains Rimmer.
“This Monday started with a call from the Centurion area where a car had been washed away. Two ORRU members, a husband and wife team on their way to work, responded to the call and after attending to that emergency, together with other ORRU members they joined the fire department and other emergency units in the process of helping and monitoring various other danger hot-spots. They eventually got home very late that night, wet, hungry and very tired. In fact, they never made to work that day which is inevitable in such grave circumstances. That is what we do as a search and rescue team,” he said.
*The Off-Road Rescue Unit (ORRU) is a government-sanctioned, highly trained response unit specialising in search and rescue in hard-to-reach locales. The crew of experts operates as a civilian volunteer organisation that works closely with national emergency management services, disaster management, the SAPS and various other rescue units across South Africa and in neighbouring countries whenever and wherever the need for specialist search and rescue arises.