Monday, 23 January 2012

22nd January – “The 2012 Floods”

Photo of the Day
The Flood coming past the lodge...bearing in mind this river hasnt flowed past the camp in 7 years!

Daily Synopsis
Little over 12 years ago, Cyclone Eline hit the east coast of Mozambique and dropped it’s watery contents over vast parts of South Africa’s Lowveld, including the Timbavati, in what was from that point onwards referred to as “The 2000 Floods”; they were quite devastating, especially in poverty-ridden Mozambique, and its destructive force was still evident until last week Wednesday.  However, from the 18th January 2012, we had new floods to refer to, as Cyclone Dando made it’s unforgettable mark on the Timbavati.
Cyclone Dando above South Africa's Limpopo Province
I had been happily sitting at home in Johannesburg enjoying my last day of leave, and via Facebook and Blackberry Messenger, I was getting updates of a lot of rain in the area, and reports were that it had been raining all day on Tuesday; not all that unusual, so I didn’t really pay much attention, and woke up on Wednesday expecting to go back to work...that was until I started seeing reports that the rain had not stopped at all on Tuesday night, and was still bucketing down on Wednesday morning.  I thought the guys were joing when they said I would only be coming back to work if I had a boat.  At that stage I didn’t realise it was so bad, but slowly figures of 250-300mm of rainfall were being reported in the news...and then I saw the image of Cyclone Dando, and it all suddenly made sense, and I knew I wasn't getting back to the reserve anytime soon!
I eventually had contact with the lodge and heard that despite my pessimism that the rain would have missed us as it usually does (and once more leaving our lodge dam empty), I was quite wrong.  So wrong in fact that not only did our dam have water in it, but it had so much water that our pool was flooded; and I was asked to try get back to assist Dave and the staff at the lodge.
This would not have been an issue had Hoedspruit, the closest town to Motswari not been totally cut-off and isolated by the floods!  All roads in and out of Hoedspruit were blocked off by rivers, and there was no way to access the town, and that meant no way to access Motswari...well, not by road anyway!
Although I tried to get in, it wasn't happening on Wednesday, and I spent the night in the nearby town of Graskop, and organised to get in via helicopter on Thursday morning, and after meeting Godfrey in town, we did just that.

Getting into Motswari in style - Godfrey and I catch a helicopter back to the reserve
Flying over the reserves in the area, we really started to get an idea of the damage that had been caused as every river in the area had flowed; and not just a trickle!  The tiniest drainage lines that one barely noticed became 20m wide rivers, and the large riverbeds that are normally sandy masses carrying no water, burst their banks and flowed over 100-150m wide!

Flying over the reserve - flooded roads, breached dams and little drainage lines running like rivers, the weather we had to fly through, and finally a herd of buffalo!
As the rain had stopped on Wednesday, the rivers had all subsided and didn’t look all that impressive from the air; but on seeing how dams had burst, roads had flooded, and camps been totally washed out, I began to realise that looks can be deceiving, and the little streams we saw from the air were not quite what had been present less than 24 hours earlier.
Klaserie River running through the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve adjoining the Timbavati

Klaserie Head Quarters

Destruction of a camp in the Klaserie

That was Vyeboom Dam, the biggest dam in the reserve!

The Nhlaralumi

Motswari Private Camp - safe and sound on higher ground

The Sohebele River in front of Motswari Game Lodge
View from the breakfast verandah

Debris indicating high water mark up to the lunch verandah

View from the pool

Where the camp dam wall was breached

Patterns in the mud
The pathways around camp had turned into rivers and were quite badly damaged, but only three rooms were affected by the water, but there was little structural damage, and considering how others in the area fared, we got off lucky; a neighbouring lodge – while not being washed away totally –was much more severely affected.

Damage to my families bungalow on the neighbouring Ingwelala property...

The other side of Motswari's dam

Andrea and I trekking to Ingwelala to see the state of my bungalow
So that was my first impression of the damage, but once I got a chance to sit down and chat to the people that had been around during The Flood, the real ferocity of the story came out!
Arriving at Motswari, Dave met us and took us around the camp; the water in the main camp dam was there, but as the earth part of the wall had been washed away, much of the water was pouring out, but the level was greatly reduced from where it had been yesterday, as we could see from the debris lying on the lawn.
It started early on Wednesday morning when the Sohebele started flowing, but as the morning pushed on and evidently dams upstream started breaking, the situation started to deteriorate, and the river kept on rising, and rising.  When the telephone lines and power went down, and the water still hadn’t stopped rising, the decision was taken to get our guests out of the area via helicopter.  While there was no danger to their lives, the logistics of trying to feed people and keep them happy in this weather was quite daunting, and we were not sure what the next 24 hours would bring, as the rain was still pouring down!

Staff village

New river running through camp

Our camp dam fills for the first time in seven years

A torrent down the paths

The flood reaches the pool

A wet looking Thea and Pete

Our poor pathways

A 180 degree view of the paths that became rivers in camp

The main pathway in camp

Flooding down to the pool
So with the guests safely out, there was little that could be done at the lodge, besides watching this amazing spectacle.  And man alive, from the videos I saw, it was something to behold.  Imagine this dry riverbed...

The usually dry Sohebele Riverbed in from of Motswari
...turning into this!

Our pool!!!

River in front of the verandah, now with one less tree!
The water rose above the breakfast verandah’s lower deck, and all the way up to the steps of the lunch verandah, the pool was inundated with flood waters, and the last rooms of the lodge were also in the water!

Water gushing past the breakfast verandah - the speed of it was unbelievable!

Our pool!

More views from around the pool and verandah

Elephant Room's deck surrounded by water
The strange part was that it was not just the river that was flowing so heavily!  Even where there was no river, water was gushing everywhere!  The pathways were knee-deep rivers!
As Wednesday afternoon pushed on, the rains slowed and eventually the waters slowly began residing.  After all that fell in the space of less than 36 hours, we measured 425mm of rain, with a little more having actually fallen, as at one point, our 100mm rain gauge had overflowed.  That is the equivalent of our annual rainfall in a day and a half!
The following days were spent assessing the situation; the guests, the staff and the camp all survived well.  Guests at Motswari Private Camp were safe on high ground, but we airlifted them out early on Thursday morning, and our Java guests were escorted out in 4x4s on Friday morning. 
The latter task sounded easy, but early on Thursday, it became apparent that it wasn't an easy task at all.  People went to check the river crossings on the tarred Argyle Rd, and while both the Nhlaralumi and Nyosi were crossable, the problems arose further south on the road, strangely at spots where we had never even noticed drainage lines they were hard to ignore as the road had totally been washed away!

Argyle Rd - not getting around those holes!
Driving guests out, we really got to see the power of nature, as even little streams like the one at Voel Dam had totally ripped through the dam wall and the damage below the dam was hard to imagine!  However, we pushed on and managed to get our guests out, albeit it in a roundabout way! 

A breached Voel Dam

Devestation down stream from Voel Dam
Voel Dam Panaramic (click for full image)
The great thing about such crises are how well people work together, and the days following the floods showed just this; Eskom had our electricity back within 3 days, the bridge heading out of Hoedspruit was fixed within a day, the holes on Argyle Rd, while not being fixed, can now be bypassed with 4x4s as temporary dirt tracks have been made around them, and we have been busy in the camp getting everything ready for our guests!
Pathways that were totally washed away are now back to normal, our rooms (barring the last two) are all functional, we have power, water and a fridge full of beer!  The pool is almost full, and we have a picturesque setting in front of the lodge!

Views from the Lodge with our waterhole partially full!
Heading out from the camp, the roads on the reserve are badly affected and still very wet, so we are not even considering game drives for a while, and off-road driving will be a no go for at least a couple of weeks!  Crossing have all been washed away, so we will be busy with those jobs over the coming weeks, and until the situation improves, we have decided to keep the lodge closed until the 30th January 2012, just so that when our first guests do arrive, we will be in a good position to provide them with a great experience!
Now I know that many of you have been worried about us and the animals, and again, we all made it through safe and sound, and while it is too early to tell about the animals, it seems they doing well!  A few impalas and bushbuck were seen floating down the river, but we have had some good viewing, even without doing game drives!  Wild dogs spent the day around the camp yesterday, having a fight with the hyenas in the evening, we have heard the Mahlathini males roaring, seen fresh tracks for Kuhanya crossing the river near camp, and even driving too and from the hole the other day, I had three different rhino sightings, zebras, wildebeest, elephant, giraffe, impala, kudus, jackals, and even a hyena with three cubs!  So they seem to be coping just fine!


Hyena family

A new species int he Timbavati...the lesser spotted fridge!  Washed out of an ingwelala bungalow!

A little banded mongoose rescued from the flood waters and returned to its family
So that is where we stand at the moment; a lot better position at this stage than many of us expected, and it was really great to see how everyone pulled together and did what was needed to do to get us here!  We will definitely keep you all posted on any changes, especially if any of the further cyclones predicted in the Indian Ocean head towards Mozambique, but at this stage, they seem unlikely, and the weatherman doesn’t predict any rain for the next 7-days, so we should be good!

Views up and down the Nhlaralumi from the Ingwelala Bridge

Views up and down the Sakarongonzo on De Luca Bridge
Until then, I hope you all stay safe, and thanks for all the wonderful words of support and offers of help that we have received!  Really very kind of all of you!
Chat soon!

Chad Cocking