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Bad weather stalls search for Alexandra churchgoers believed drowned in flash flood

Bad weather stalls search for Alexandra churchgoers believed drowned in flash flood
Rescuers search for Alexandra worshippers swept down the Jukskei River in a flash flood on Saturday, 4 September 2022. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

Fourteen bodies of Johane Masowe churchgoers from Alexandra, Johannesburg, have been retrieved from the Jukskei River after a baptism ritual was hit by a flash flood. Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi believes they are still to retrieve at least three bodies, including that of a three-month-old baby.

Tuesday was the third day of the search for the bodies of churchgoers who drowned in the Jukskei River in Alexandra on Saturday during a baptism. It was also the second day that the search had been called off because of bad weather. At least two teams of six members have been searching the river. 

Johannesburg Emergency Services (EMS) spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said they were still trying to retrieve the bodies of at least three more people who had been reported missing, including the body of a three-month-old baby. Mulaudzi said there may be more bodies as there was no record of the exact number of people who went into the river on Saturday when the flash flood hit.

The EMS said 33 Johane Masowe churchgoers went into the Jukskei River on Saturday evening for a baptism ritual. A flash flood hit the river and swept away about 19 people.

alexandra flash flood

A rescue team retrieves a body found near the Jukskei River on Sunday, 5 December 2022. Alexandra worshippers were swept down the river in a flash flood on Saturday. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

By Sunday, the EMS had retrieved 14 bodies. Two people are said to have survived the flash flood and three were still missing on Monday.

Rescue team member Xolile Khumalo said on Tuesday that 13 of the 14 bodies retrieved had been identified.

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“Thirteen of the retrieved bodies were female, including a 60-year-old and a three-year-old. On Monday we had three families coming forward to confirm missing persons… we will continue with our search.”

The search was disrupted by a hailstorm on Monday and resumed on Tuesday at 9am, but was called off later in the day due to a fast-approaching storm. It will resume on Wednesday should the weather be favourable.

Daily Maverick spoke to Ezekiel Sebego, the chief forecaster at WeatherSA, who said: “Rainfall figures for the period from Sunday morning, ending Monday morning, showed that for the whole of Sunday there was hardly any rain around Johannesburg, until the evening when that big storm came through. The amount of rain that has fallen locally would have been insufficient to cause a flash flood, and hence no warning was deemed necessary. 

alexandra flash flood

Rescue workers search the Jukskei River after Saturday’s flash flood in Alexandra swept away worshippers at a baptism ritual. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

“This leaves the only conceivable explanation that the unfortunate incident was due to water coming gradually from upstream, caused by rain which happened over at least 48 hours preceding the incident. 

“The public is advised to treat streams and waterways with extreme caution during the summer rainfall period, as flash floods could occur when heavy rain has fallen upstream — normally six hours earlier (in this case, even 24 to 48 hours earlier).” 

Heavy storms are forecast for Gauteng. Khumalo said: “If the rain comes we will have to call off the search for that period. The search will continue until it starts raining.”

She said if the need arose the search would be intensified with equipment such as drones and they would seek help from other municipalities. DM


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