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Floods of 2000, part 1: History revisited

Many Lowvelders will remember the devastating rains and floods of 2000, in which 700 people died.

“Water hell”.

Water Hell, February 11.

The above headline was just one of this newspaper’s shocking front page insights into the period of unimaginable strain in the region.

This article is the first in a five-part series about the period from January to March 2000 which saw southern Mozambique, northern South Africa and south-east Zimbabwe experience their worst rains in decades, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and without access to food and clean drinking water.

It is also important, however, to mention the 45 000 people who were saved and the 500 000 who were forced to flee but managed to survive in good health until the water receded.

Also watch: Dineo Claims Eight Dolphins at Inhassoro

Cholera strikes, March 10

The floods did not arrive from nowhere
Heavy rains and floods had been predicted from September 1999, due partly to La Niña, which influences atmospheric circulation, and consequently rainfall and temperature in a specific area.

Many parts of the Lowveld were badly affected; it was the third major flood to hit the area in 15 years leaving a trail of destruction amounting to hundreds of millions of rand and concerns about the outbreak of disease.

In the Hazyview area alone, from January 1 to 16, 387 millimetres of rain were measured in comparison to the 210 millimetres recorded in the year 1999. And that was only the beginning.

From the Komati River to the Kruger National Park and White River to Pilgrim’s Rest, Lowvelder reported on the effects of the heavy rainfall and flooding with more (almost unbelievable) headlines: “33 000 chickens die”, “Flood relief too slow – Kasrils”, “Milk floods in for victims”, “Brown tap water is safe to drink” and “Cholera strikes”.

Cyclone will bring more rain, February 22

Cyclone Eline
On February 22, the full force of tropical cyclone Eline hit the Mozambican coast, just north of the area already destroyed by the first floods. Lowvelder reported a dire food shortage in Mozambique.

The South African air force began flying aid to people who had been trapped and by the beginning of March, the international community began sending relief workers and helicopters. The help was invaluable in managing the crisis.

Although the brunt of the cyclone was felt by Mozambique, Eline brought more torrential rain over the Lowveld.

It would take millions of rand and many months for the region to begin to recover; in tourism, infrastructure and roads. For those people negatively affected and future generations, it would be written in history books, and reflected on for years to come.

In the Inhambane province, Mozambique, many coastal towns were affected by tropical cyclone Dineo on February 15, 2017. It damaged infrastructure and uprooted trees. Photo: Herman Raath

Then and now
Seventeen years later, the Lowveld is still left reeling after one of the country’s worst recorded droughts. Authorities have shown concern about the potential hazard of flash floods in the area should there be well-above normal rainfall conditions.

According to the latest South African Weather Service seasonal climate watch for December 2016 to April 2017, “It is known that most of the historical flooding events recorded are associated with La Niña phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation.”

With the extent of the impact of tropical weather system “Dineo” on the Lowveld region expected to show over the course of the weekend, it is imperative to remember the unpredictability of weather forecasting. It is also important to take heed of what may be to come.

Also watch: Dineo moves toward land

Take a closer look at what the newspaper reports of that time looked like. Notice how many there are:

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