Floods of 2000. Part 2: Family rescued

During the floods in 2000, which devastated parts of Mozambique and the province, many rescue operations had to be conducted. One such case was an incident involving a prominent advocate, Ms Martiza Uys, and her two young children. She said on Sunday morning February 6, 2000 she left for Sabie Park from Komatipoort, with her two children, Frederik and Ziska (then 3 years and 10 months), to check whether the heavy rain was damaging their house in Sabie Park.

ALSO READ: Floods of 2000, part 1: History revisited

“I did not take much food or clothes along, because I planned to return later the afternoon. Heavy rain continued, and I decided to stay for the night, hoping it would clear and road conditions will improve.”
She had no contact with her husband, Piet van Dyk, as he did not have a cell phone at the time, and Sabie Park had no landlines. During the night, she had heard the Sabie River rushing in flood, and became worried.

“I left Sabie Park very early the next morning, realizing that the weather was rather worsening than clearing. When I wanted to enter the Kruger National Park, the Sabie river bridge had washed away. I decided to turn around and drive via Hazyview.”


When she crossed the small bridges on the way, she noticed that all the tributaries were in flood. The Saringwa was already flowing over the bridge. “I crossed the Sabie River at Calcutta, but became extremely concerned when I saw the extent of the flood, the waves already lashing against the bridge. It was bucketing, and I could hardly see the road in front of me, but I proceeded through the water towards Hazyview,” she said. However, when she reached the Noord-Sand River just before Hazyview, she was stopped by the terrible sight of the bridge collapsing and washing away down the river, taking two pedestrians who were trying to cross, along. “I was shocked, but my children were luckily asleep and did not witness this tragedy.

I had no choice but to turn back to Sabie Park, to wait there for help.” But when she reached the Sabie bridge, the flood waters were lashing against its fence with such force, that it looked unstable. A Mercedes stopped at the bridge in front of her. It hesitated, and then the passenger and driver exchanged seats, and they drove over. Mariza was too scared to cross, and turned back, to find help. There was nobody on the piece of road between the Sabie and Noord-Sand rivers, so she decided to be brave and cross the Sabie. “ I stopped, prayed, and turned back again. But when I reached the bridge, it was gone. I was trapped on a small piece of road, and already the gravel roads which turned off from the main road, looked like rivers themselves.” The road was now very dangerous and slippery, so she found the highest place on the road, and stopped under a tree.

The children were now awake and hungry. “I breastfed both, as the only food I had in the car was two raw eggs, left over from the previous night. I had no nappies for Ziska, and no warm or extra clothes. I started panicking, and decided to find help.” Maritza drove towards the Noord-Sand-river, but there were no cars on the road. “When I drove back, I noticed a white bakkie coming my way. I flashed my lights and it stopped.” An old man asked her if he could help, and I she remembers saying: “Ons het moeilikheid, nè Oom?” and he replied “Nee, jy het. Ek bly hier naby”. she then said; “Oom bly nie meer alleen nie!”. Oom Jan Botha took them to his office at a nearby quarry. While he tried to call for help from his cell phone, on which he had no airtime, she tried to dry our clothes under his roof fan. With the SOS number, he managed to get through to the police, who informed the army.

She would have to wait as they were very busy saving people in mortal danger. The police eventually called my husband and told him, “We have found your wife and children.” Piet said that these words had confirmed his worst fears of the past 12 hours since rumours of a disaster in the Kruger Park had reached him, namely that his family were dead and that the police had found their bodies. He was very relieved to hear that they were alive and safe, and from then on he tried to arrange that they be picked up and brought home. In the meantime, Maritza and the children stayed at the quarry all day long, with very little to eat, as Oom Jan only had a packet of rice and a few pieces of chicken (this was the very reason why he was out on the road where they met him: to try and find a spaza shop to buy food.)

The rain continued, and no help arrived. That night, he gave her and the children his single bed in one of the offices and where he stayed during the week, returning to his home in Vereeniging only on weekends. He slept on pillows from the chairs in the office. The next day, 36 hours after their arrival at the quarry, an Oryx helicopter arrived. “This was the helicopter which took the provincial premier and the media over the disaster area, and it had enough space for us. My children were traumatized, and Ziska was still wearing the same nappy since Sunday evening.”

 

 

The farewell to Oom Jan was tearful, as he was a true Samaritan. They left their kombi with him, to retrieve whenever the bridges were repaired. The flight to Komatipoort was by way of an extended circle over all the flood areas, and during which the sliding door of the helicopter was once opened, for the media to be able to take photos. “With the helicopter tilting to the side and us hanging in mid-air with masses of water below us, this was one of the scariest moments of the entire ordeal.

ALSO READ: Floods of 2000, part 1: History revisited

After a flight which felt never-ending, the Oryx landed on the rugby field in Komatipoort, where Piet awaited us with a bunch of flowers and great relief.” They collected the kombi many weeks later, where the family had a reunion and an extended lunch with Oom Jan. “We stayed in contact for many months, but I lost his number when switching phones once, and never heard of him again. I will be so glad to see my Samaritan again.”

  AUTHOR
Tereasa Dias
Journalist

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