So where were you when for seven days and seven nights, from Monday, August 24 to 30 in 1970, when the skies above East London dumped 828mm of water on its unsuspecting citizens?
No-one who lived through that sodden week, 52 years ago last week, will ever forget it. It was a cataclysmic act of nature seldom seen before and one which one hopes will not be seen again.
It caused rack and ruin and untold misery on the city’s inhabitants and gave rise to millions of rand in insurance claims.
On that fateful Monday morning, with no warning of impending disaster, Naomi, my wife, had as usual taken the boys off to school at Selborne, but boy, was it a different story at lunchtime when she surfed down Gately Street on a surge of storm water in our beat-up old VW beetle to fetch them home.
Our lovely old house in St George’s Road, now long demolished in favour of a large block of apartments, which had not leaked a drop in years, was a veritable sieve. Pots and pans were strewn around practically every room and passage to prevent carpets from ruin – to no avail.
But that was nothing compared to the misfortune inflicted on thousands of East London families. But the most talked-about, the most written-about area in East London at the time was the stretch of the Nahoon River from former mayor Elsabe Kemp’s beautiful double-story home on the city side bank of the river just above the Batting Bridge which was totally submerged by the force of the surging flood water.
When next you cross that bridge have a look down to the river below and you will get an idea of the volume of raging water which swept down past the elegant houses on Torquay Road, carrying off everything in its way including river-side jetties, garden and household furniture (including a piano) and other personal possessions on its violent, turbulent path to the sea.
It was the same story all over the city and beyond. The causeway at Gulu over the river linking Kidd’s Beach and East London was smashed to bits by the raging water. A graphic report of the elderly wife of the Daily Dispatch’s business editor clinging frantically to the guttering of their Lido Avenue house while the swirling water beneath her rose higher and higher was just one of the vivid stories published in the Dispatch.
The sheer force of the surging debris-laden waters of the Nahoon River bearing uprooted trees and all manner of upstream detritus, broke the back of the Batting Bridge, thereby isolating the whole of the Beacon Bay community from the rest of East London. Yes, that’s how high the river rose!
Marina Glen, then a happy playground for thousands of local kids, was ruined. The Charity Mail, Round Table’s miniature train which carried hundreds of youngsters round the leafy glen every weekend was saved but its tracks, undermined by the rushing water, hung forlornly in space as the ground underfoot was gouged away.
East London’s harbour was evacuated after a dramatic – but incorrect as it turned out – warning that the Bridle Drift Dam on the Buffalo River had burst and an 80-foot-high wall of raging water would engulf the harbour in 20 minutes.
The dam wall, however, remained intact. Even so, the harbour took a terrible pounding.
The mopping up operation of our broken city took months and the Daily Dispatch editorial staff were on hand to capture the devastation in words and pictures in a first-class supplement for the benefit of its readers and future generations.
Sever climate change episodes such as this are now happening all over the world. Be vigilant.