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Residents evacuated after floods in North West as government declares national disaster

'You can’t not panic, it was chaotic moving our stuff out,' says resident

20 January 2022 - 10:14
Two doctors assess a submerged road in Bloemhof, after being evacuated due to floodwaters.
Two doctors assess a submerged road in Bloemhof, after being evacuated due to floodwaters.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

The heavy summer rains, which have caused damage to property, flooding, sinkholes and landslides across the country, have prompted the government to declare a national disaster.

This was gazetted by Dr Mmaphaka Tau, head of the National Disaster Management Centre.

The declaration requires government departments “to further strengthen support to existing structures to implement contingency arrangements and ensure that measures are put in place to enable the national executive to effectively deal with the effects of this disaster”.

In the North West, residents living alongside the banks of the Vaal river are being evacuated due to rising floodwaters.

Two doctors at Bloemhof are among those cut off from their homes.

It has been a week riddled with headaches and anxiety in the town as businesses and homes close to the river bank have had to evacuate.

Didier Muchenge* said his life has been temporarily turned upside down as they had to seek alternative accommodation in town after the storms closed off access to their home.

“You can’t not panic, it was chaotic moving our stuff out and having to find other places to stay. I have been staying in this area for about two years now and I don’t remember being in a state of emergency. This was hectic.

“We kept coming down to this road since Monday to check if the water has subsided,” Muchenge said.

A house on the banks of the dam. The North West government has evacuated people living along the Bloemhof Dam and Vaal River banks.
A house on the banks of the dam. The North West government has evacuated people living along the Bloemhof Dam and Vaal River banks.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has had to open five sluice gates on the Vaal-Orange River System, to cope with “the sheer volume of water due to the ongoing rains”.

Tsholofelo Mathibedi, spokesperson for the provincial co-operative governance department, said recent torrential rains have affected about 702 households throughout the North West.

“About 13 local municipalities are affected by the disaster. The severe weather conditions have led to damage to property and the environmental degradation which includes the emergence of potholes on many of our roads. This has disrupted community life in the affected areas. To date, there are no reported fatalities.

“The situation is likely to get worse as the sluice gates of the Vaal and Bloemhof dams have been opened to reduce the amount of water and the dam is a tributary.”  

Mathibedi said the occupants of 72 houses and 50 chalets have been evacuated in the Bloemhof area.

Muchenge said they could only take the most important things when they evacuated their home. “Clothes, food and personal care products are what we could manage.

“We will have to wait and see what happens. As long we can still go to work,” added Muchenge.

At the Bloemhof Golf Club, staff fear it will take a long time before they will be able to fully rejuvenate their lawns and get back to business. Benjamin Runganga, bar manager at the golf club, said half of the golf course was under water.

“They started opening the water gates on Monday and during the night the levels went up. It was a panic situation because there’s a possibility that they can open more [sluice gates].”

Benjamin Runganga at the Bloemhof Golf Club, where a large area is under water.
Benjamin Runganga at the Bloemhof Golf Club, where a large area is under water.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

They had moved items out of the clubhouse, he said. “We had to work quickly and make sure we don’t get our property damaged.”

This couldn't have come at a worse time, as their peak period was from Wednesday to Saturday.

“We can’t do anything, the club house is closed,” Runganga said.

“There’s no business. It’s going to be a lot of work to get the golf course to work again. We need it to dry and we don’t even know how the river will run going forward. It’s going to be a big expense getting it (the course) running again.”

Nico van Rensburg, owner of Sielerus lodge in Orkney, about two hours outside Bloemhof along the river, said his business was badly affected as bookings have declined.

“We have people coming in out of curiosity to check out the flood impact but not to book. It’s bad because we are at a standstill and we don’t know how long it will last.

“Though we didn’t build on the flood line, we are affected since our business attraction is close to the river. We had to evacuate most of our caravans and chalets,” said Van Rensburg.

* Name changed with request to protect identity of the interviewee.

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