Surviving the 2000 Floods
The last week and a half has brought about a lot of anticipation and excitement. First with Cyclone Eloise, that brought the Crocodile River down in flood, followed a few days later by another flood of the Crocodile River with all the heavy rain from the upper catchment area; a sight to behold, as we watched the water arrive, almost in a wave, and sweep over the Crocodile Bridge.
How frustrating this time must be for the staff of Sanparks, as they just get the bridge cleaned when the water level drops, only for it to wash over again a couple of days later.
We are in the peak of our rainy season, and with our property situated on the Crocodile River, my anxiety levels have been a little higher than normal, as I cast my mind back to the floods of 2000, and what my grandparents endured during that time.
The heavy rains began in the January of 2000, raining consistently with cyclone after cyclone coming in. The river levels were high, and at that time the Crocodile Bridge was much lower (Rebuilt higher in 2008), so if there was any heavy rain, the bridge would be under water.
But, the 7th of February 2000, is a day that many will never forget. The day the big water came.
On that morning, my grandparents had been watching the river rise, using a log as a marker to measure the levels. The river came over the fence and around the swimming pool, within 45 minutes. But then it began to drop again – and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
My Gramps went to town (Komatipoort), to get water, as they had no running water. The storms had knocked out the power, and the water tanks had run dry, as they couldn’t pump. On his way, he received a phone call from my aunt in Malelane, “Mike, has the big water arrived? “, she asked. On his way back from town, the water was going over the bonnet of his Mercedes, whilst crossing the railway line.
He raced home, and told Grammy and the staff, and they began to pack. At first Grammy was carefully packing all of her belongings in to boxes, when her staff member came in and said, “misses, we don’t have time for this,” he took his arm and pulled everything off her shelf in to the box quickly.
It was pouring with rain, as the staff and my grandparents ran mattresses and anything they could get their hands on, up to an old empty building at the top of the property, which used to be a restaurant on site. At the time, they had 4 chalets, and 1 log cabin which was on stilts on the property.
A kind neighbor from the farm next door arrived with his bakkie and helped them to move whatever he could.
The river rushed through the Kruger fence (sweeping it away as it went), in to the swimming pool, through the houses and the chalets, and all the way up to the access road of our property.
The water swirled around our chalets, at the top of the windows, Gramps later told me.
Eventually Grammy told her neighbour that he should go back to his farm to check that all was ok with his home, and his family.
Giant trees came down the river, as well as wildlife, fridges and furniture, and the sycamore figs on the opposite riverbank were uprooted and swept down the river.
The pressure of the debris and the water, eventually broke off a huge part of the historical Crocodile train bridge, and Grammy and Gramps told me that all they heard was a loud crashing noise as it fell in the roaring river below.
The water had arrived in full force, and they had only managed to get a pinprick of their belongings to dry land. They lost so much, but they were safe and that was the main thing. There was no running water, there was no electricity, and the damage was irreparable.
My mom, brother and I, were living in White River at the time, and were unable to be there with them, because the gorge on the N4 was closed due to landslides and flooding and there was no way to get to them, with the park flooding too.
My grandparents were exhausted, traumatised and of course devastated.
That night they slept in the old restaurant building on the floor, with the gate guard and his wife; their little home at the Crocodile Bridge Gate had also flooded.
The staff kindly boiled water and brought it for them to bathe in. (Luckily the staff housing was on higher ground and was unaffected by the flood).
The following morning, Grammy set off to clean her house, thinking she would just sweep the mud out.
To her shock and horror when she arrived, this would prove to be an impossible task. The mud was thick and caked in to the floor, debris scattered everywhere, the roof rotted because of the water, the pool was filled with fish, and the Kruger Park fence, and the power lines had completely washed away.
They moved in to Unit 5 (the only log cabin, and the only one on stilts), which thankfully stood strong and dry through the floods.
I can remember going to visit them and staying in that unit. I remember catching fish in the swimming pool, taking broken Crocodile eggs to school for show and tell, and eventually moving back in to their house and living in there with a portion of the roof still missing, while they were rethatching.
A few days after the flood, my grandparents’ kind neighbour gave them a ring to check in, he also told them that when he got home, the water reached his front porch step, but that was as far as it went. Bless his heart.
They didn’t have running water for a few months, poor Grammy caught malaria, the property was covered in thick mud and my grandparents were out of business for a year.
The staff of Crocodile Bridge were stuck in camp, with no way in and no way out. The river remained high for a few months, and eventually they used a boat to get to the other side. Provisions were apparently also brought to them by helicopter.
Kruger was affected tremendously. They say nature was resetting the system; cleaning its rivers, and that floods like these only come around every 200 years. Since then the rivers have never looked the same. More than 300 tourists and staff members had to be rescued from rivers. The flood damage was estimated at more than R67 million at the time.
It was a tragedy, and an eye-opener to the power of water, the forces of nature, and how small and insignificant we, as humans are, in the grand scheme of things.
Unfortunately, in the floods of 2000 my grandparents took absolutely no photos – they didn’t even have a camera then. And even if they did, I'm sure that taking photos would've been the absolute last thing on their minds.
Prior to the river flooding now in 2021, the last big flood we had was in 2013, when the river came to our fence, and we found a crocodile in our swimming pool!