As most of you would be aware by now, the Limpopo and Mpumalanga regions in South Africa were flooded during January. There was extensive damage in most parts of the Kruger National Park and alas, we at Elephant Plains could not avoid the water masses! Most of the region was declared a disaster area. I am glad to report though, that in comparison with some of our neighbours and friends, we were lucky and came away from this drama rather lightly affected. None of our guests were ever in any danger and thanks to all the staff working together (as the amazing team that we are known for) the crisis was quickly averted! I dedicate my report this month to the 2012 floods.
Here are a collection of images from the Flood. Please note that some photos were taken with a mobile phone.
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There’s a saying that goes: “Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true!” Well, that’s exactly what happened during January. We were hoping for a lot of rain and boy oh boy, did we receive just that! On Tuesday, the 17th of January at two ‘o clock the afternoon, we got our first taste of cyclone Dando, which hit Mozambique earlier. At first we thought it was the rain we were hoping for so badly. But we were wrong. This was more than just your average rainstorm. The skies had opened up! It rained nonstop for the next forty-eight hours. During this time we received an excess of 520 millimetres. As the rain gage at the lodge (which can hold 100 millimetres at a time) kept overflowing, we are unsure exactly how much rain we had. To put it in perspective: the average yearly rainfall for the area is estimated at roughly 650 millimetres. Instead of receiving 650mm over a period of 365 days, we received a little less than that in just two days!
At two o’clock the Wednesday morning I got cold shivers whilst standing on our African Health Spa deck. What was happening in front of my eyes was out of this world. During my seven years at Elephant Plains I have seen the dry Manyeleti riverbed flow with water a few times. But nothing could prepare me for this. I had never seen so much water in my entire life! What was supposed to be our open area was now a dam of water as far as the eye could see. Our waterhole with the Africam was invisible, engulfed by a raging mass of water. Everything was under water and here and there you could see some tree tops. The water levels kept rising by the minute and at three ‘o clock when the water was a mere two meters under the Spa deck, I made the call that we should go and open the bar/lounge area and start making coffee for the guests that we were going to evacuate out of the luxury suites. On my way to go and wake the first guests, I gave the water level one more glance and saw that it had stopped rising. We decided to hold off the evacuation and started a night watch for the remainder of the evening. The staff took turns monitoring the water levels to make sure that it didn’t start rising again. At first light we did damage control in and around the camp. It was a nightmare. There was so much water all around us. The roads around the camp were completely flooded and the dry Manyeleti riverbed that you cross on the fence line was a raging river of about 400 metres wide. The first thing we needed to do was to organise evacuation from the lodge for our guests who needed to catch international flights later that day. Luckily we found a lone ranger of the sky. His name is Phillip and he came to our rescue as he agreed to evacuate our guests with his helicopter. They were taken to Hazyview and as far as we know everyone reached their destinations safely from there. I would like to thank him for his time and efforts; you will go down as a hero in the Elephant Plains book of history! Once these guests were out, we went to the river crossings to try and fix them, but there was no chance. The water was still too high to attempt anything and the last thing I wanted was to risk one of our staff members being washed away by the raging water. At four ‘o clock the afternoon, we had our second attempt at getting to work on the river crossings, but we just ended up getting stuck the whole time. We just managed to get the last vehicle out of the mud when the next lot of rain started pouring down. In no time at all, due to the fact that the ground was already so saturated, the water levels started rising again!
It no time the rivers were back to their monstrous levels and my stomach was tied in a knot. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but tree tops and water. By the next morning the rain had stopped. We were now able to really assess the damage. One of our rondavels got flooded by the huge amounts of water streaming from the car park. But the staff quickly jumped in, the furniture was pulled out and we began the clean-up. We were able to save the furniture and the room looks as good as new today. Luckily none of the furniture was permanently damaged. With one disaster sorted out, we went to the fence line crossing, only to see that half of the road was completely washed away. We tried to use a TLB to fix it, but it just kept getting stuck. Whist having no joy over here, I received bad news from lodge. Our wine cellar was filling up with water! Can you imagine that? The seepage through the ground was so great that it was flowing under the bar area, pushing the water up through the wall sockets, as well as a crack that had formed in the floor. The water just kept on pushing up, filling the cellar ankle deep. As an end result we had to knock a hole in the wall to let the water drain out… By Thursday we had managed to get the fence line crossing “crossable” for four wheel drive vehicles. The crossing has not stopped our guests from getting to the lodge, though. They now need to park their cars at the Gowrie Gate and are fetched from there with a game drive vehicle.
On a positive note the flooding showed us that our roads were luckily up to standard. During the first two days, when everything was flooded we obviously could not do any game drives, but as soon as the water levels went down sufficiently we could drive on the roads again. We needed to fix a few mitre drains that was washed away, but all in all our roads were not damaged badly. This just goes to show how important regular maintenance is. The bush is still too wet to attempt off-roading, but our sightings have been good and therefore we do not need to risk getting stuck in order to see the animals. Our dams also held up amazingly well and although one or two walls were slightly damaged, none of them broke.
The other positive factor is how absolutely stunning the bush is looking at the moment. We are surrounded by a wall of greenery. The grass is so tall that the lodge is almost invisible from the outside. The animals are all in a great condition because of the abundance of food and water.
You would have noticed that the Africam is currently down. All the equipment was flooded and John is coming through to the lodge to install new technology in the next week or two.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful staff members for all their hard work during the floods. Everyone jumped in and helped where they could. It is good to know you’ve got so many loyal staff that has each other’s backs and we emerged out of this crisis with a feeling of camaraderie. Thanks guys, this is the stuff the Elephant Plains team is made of!
On a more delicious note, Chef Linda shares another mouth-watering recipe with you this month. These Lamb Pies are to die for and a definite favourite of mine. It went down well during the cold, rainy weather.
Fry off the onions with the spices until translucent, then add the lamb cubes and brown. Add the sauces and simmer until cooked, season to taste.
Cut rounds out of the puff pastry and place into a greased muffin pan. Add the lamb mixture and bake until the pastry is a golden colour. Serve and enjoy!
Well, that’s all from my side this month. Have a good one!