Against all odds: Search teams refuse to give up on missing persons in KwaZulu-Natal
The incredible men and women making up the search and rescue teams that have been working around the clock in the wake of the floods in KwaZulu-Natal, have been hailed by many as heroes. But the SAPS Durban Search and Rescue Unit’s Warrant Officer Dave Steyn, the man at the helm of this mammoth operation, told Eyewitness News on Tuesday that this was simply what they did. They have braved raging rivers and dug through mountains of rubble and debris in search of survivors and the deceased alike. And despite the incredible toll it has taken on them, they are still going. “I think it’s just the nature of the search and rescue member, a police pilot, an air force pilot or a navy diver - even a firefighter and some of the volunteers that have jumped in here. They are not told to do this job. They are the ones that volunteer. They have the passion,” Steyn said. Hundreds of people have been reported missing since the floods first hit and Steyn and his colleagues have been working under extraordinarily challenging circumstances to rescue and recover them. “It is extremely challenging in that some of our missing persons might be buried under tons and tons of rubble and mud. We have a large number of people that have been washed away in rivers. However, with the landslides, the mudslides and the houses collapsing, it might take months before we even hit the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The teams have enjoyed a swell of support from the community, with local businesses and ordinary men and women alike having descended on the Virginia Airport, where the operations are based, to provide them with hot meals, cold drinks and anything else they might need. And Steyn said this had been an incredible source of support.
“We even have the chiropractors here; we have physiotherapists that are assisting members who are suffering from fatigue and minor injuries. We have surgeons and doctors that are here all day, every day, that are assisting where medication is needed or where any other form of therapeutic intervention is required.”
He said the work took a toll but that he and his teams would not stop. “They are getting tired, they are wearing thin and being spread. But their morale is up. There are times when we will have low days, when you can see that the team is really battling, but we don’t stop and give up. We might take more breaks and slow the pace down but it is ongoing,” he added.
With over 400 bodies already found search and rescue teams are still hard at work searching for missing persons.
On Tuesday the search and rescue teams recovered an 11-year-old boy's body from the greater Ntuzuma area. On Wednesday they were back, in a different part of the area, looking for two young men: 21-year-old Sibusiso Gwala and 29-year-old Lucky Mthembu. Both disappeared on Monday while trying to cross a river. The teams were walking the length of the river Wednesday morning with two search and rescue K9s. But so far, they've not turned up anything and the search continues.
A search and rescue team found a body on Monday after spending two hours searching for victims of the KwaZulu-Natal floods along the Umgeni River in Molweni. Officers received a tip-off from a man who reported that his children, who were playing near the river, had seen a human arm protruding from the sand. It took the search and rescue team more than two hours to find the body of the man trapped below the river bank. The body is believed to be a man in his 30s. The search and rescue team had to be delicate in retrieving the body from the sandy soil. They used shovels to remove the soil covering the body, to avoid inflicting more damage to it. "He is out. Let's put him in the body bag," a policeman shouted to his visibly exhausted colleagues.” Bonginkosi Mkhize said his children, who herd cattle near the river, alerted him on Saturday evening about the body. "They said they had seen a human arm protruding from the riverbank. I informed our ward councillor the following day and he referred me to the police. I called the police and directed them to the place where my boys had shown. I understand that they struggled to find it because it was covered by sand. I am happy that his family will find closure. As a traditional healer, it is imperative to know where your relative is buried. Death is painful," Mkhize said.
The search first started at a stream of water in Amaoti, where the team searched for Zamile Dlawu, 38, without success. According to Dlawu's sister-in-law, Bongeka Zulu, he was last seen on 11 April. "He disappeared while crossing a bridge in the township. After hearing the news, we were joined by residents in looking for him. We searched for him in many places, but, unfortunately, we didn't find him. I am confident that the search and rescue team will help us find him. They are dedicated in their job," Zulu said.
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala recently revealed that more than 121 000 were affected by heavy floods. "About 17 438 households were affected, 435 people lost their lives. We have 54 people reported missing. About 278 people remain homeless, and 55 others were injured," Zikalala said.
Sources: EWN, News 24