Rescue workers who braved KZN flood waters honoured for their actions
Rescue worker Jace Govender used instinct and experience gained while volunteering after Cyclone Idai to coordinate lifesaving efforts during floods that devastated parts of Isipingo, south of Durban, earlier this year. “It happened all of a sudden. The entire south basin was flooded,” Govender said as he described the April floods which battered the province, killing more than 400 people and displacing thousands. Govender is part of a group of professionals and civilians who were lauded for their rescue efforts by the Lifesaving Association of South Africa in Durban on Friday, 19 August 2022.
He said as a volunteer when the tropical storm hit Mozambique in 2019 he helped strangers but KwaZulu-Natal was different as he knew some of the victims.
Govender spoke of a 21-year-old woman who became the only casualty in the area. “It had taken two hours to get her and her family out of their home after it was engulfed by water. That is how treacherous the conditions were." The woman died two days after being admitted to hospital. She was a paraplegic, who had been on her way for dialysis that morning.
Though they had expected inclement weather, they were overwhelmed by the magnitude. “We had already expected heavy rain because it was predicted by the weather channels.”
Govender organised a rescue team of four people. On the morning of the floods, he was called to Glen Ashley where he waded to cars submerged on a bridge.
At about 3.30am, he was called to Amanzimtoti where people had been trapped inside a vehicle on the N2. “When I got there, I saw the devastation in Isipingo and the number of people affected.” He informed the local councillor and a rescue team was arranged. “We rescued people, pulling them out of cars using a jetski which later ran out of fuel.”
Eventually he started swimming, using a rope to bring people to high ground. “This was in the dark. By the time there was light, I received help from locals who had boats. We started a mammoth task of evacuating people in Isipingo Beach.”
He later discovered that the Prospecton basin had been flooded, leaving workers stranded and coordinated a rescue mission in the industrial area.
In total, they evacuated 1 400 people in Isipingo with the help of community members.
Sihle Xaba, a professional lifeguard with the eThekwini municipality’s metro search and rescue unit, said the floods had not been his first disaster experience as he had helped during the 2019 floods. He and his colleague Clinton van der Merwe were recognised for going the extra mile.
Xaba recalled how alarmed he was when he read a flurry of messages on a Durban Metro Police Search and Rescue WhatsApp group about the emergencies. “When calls kept coming I told myself I should not rest. I got onto the phone and in touch with the captain at the helm of the mission and told him about my availability.”
With more than 24 years' experience, Xaba said they faced many challenges and possible dangers but this was not a deterrent. “It's not as if I was gambling with my life,” said Xaba, who was instrumental in rescuing 26 workers trapped on the roof of the SAPREF factory with members of the search and rescue team.
Transnet helicopters were used in the operation to airlift the employees to safety.
While they were assisting the stranded employees, they came across another group of people searching for the workers. “Some people were on top of trucks and rooftops. It was just a flooded concrete block. Some of our colleagues headed to the Pepkor building [within the SAPREF precinct]. ” Most of the victims were on the verge of hypothermia after being trapped on the roof and drenched with rain.
In the midst of the rescue, Xaba said the shift supervisor warned of hazardous gas cylinders and electrical cables, some of which had collapsed, in the area.
Lifesaving SA KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Troy Brown said it was a “no-brainer” that they would heed the call to help distressed communities battered by the storms. “We are heavily involved in lifesaving and part of lifesaving requires that we give back to the community,” he said.
Those lauded for bravery include: Durban Pro’s Mthokozisi Cele, 29, Shane Govender, 43, Keown Delomoney, 24, Jayseelan Govender, 51, and Leonard Pillay, 67; Winklespruit Surf Lifesaving Club members Mark Barber, 58, John Willis, 60, Neville Hazell, 62, Cadien Button, 17, and Cruz Barber, 28; Luvo Tsarwa, 28, of Toti Surf Lifesaving Club and Sandiso Nala, 36, of Fast Track Surf Lifesaving Club.
Source: Times Live