Near-death drama in Stanford as Cape storm turns little village into a ‘frightening alien’ world

Near-death drama in Stanford as Cape storm turns little village into a ‘frightening alien’ world
Vicky le Roux bids a tearful temporary farewell to her beloved pet, Ivy, after the dog was rescued from her flooded home. (Photo: Rodney Ackermann)

‘We are trapped on second floor with 10 kids and a baby. Please help,’ was one of the many desperate messages as chaos descended.

The Klein River is small, and short. Its name says so. Its picture-postcard image of a gentle, meandering river alive with birds and reeds adorns many a brochure. Yet not until a few days ago did anyone realise that beneath the idyllic Wordsworth setting lurked a monster.

Last weekend was a holiday weekend, Heritage Day. So much had been planned for the little village of Stanford, a stone’s throw from Hermanus. Putting a damper on things, weather gurus had predicted a Level 9 storm belting its way towards the Western Cape accompanied by hurricane-force winds and possible flooding.

But hey, you know, it’s just another winter storm – maybe it won’t be that bad.

But it was. Hurricane-force winds blew solar panels off rooftops, trees were uprooted and walls tumbled while torrential rain turned roads into death traps, with flooding and mayhem. And that was just for starters. The worst was still to come.

Within hours on Sunday night the little river was sending mountains of water hurtling towards the R43 bridge linking the village to the outside world. It crashed over the bridge in huge waves, lurching ever faster towards the sea, tearing through homes, submerging everything: country roads, rooftops – a bullet train gone crazy.

Phone messages came thick and fast.

“Help. I’m stranded I can’t get out. Please, please come and get me, the water is rising. I’ve got animals. Come now. Please rescue Doris she’s a well-behaved dog and my cat sitting in a crate.”

Another: “Please can someone send help. Trapped in my house can’t get out.”

And yet another: “We have moved to the top floor. Water halfway to the ceiling.”

And more: “We are trapped on second floor with 10 kids and a baby. Please help.”

Some hung red scarves out of windows to show they were in a life-and-death situation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape of Storms

Amateur cameraman and Stanford resident Rodney Ackerman braved the elements and rising water to record the scenes, helping to alert volunteer rescuers to people and families in distress.

“Every time I looked through my camera lens it was like looking at an alien world. So frightening,” he said.

National Sea Rescue Institute volunteers were able to get to Stanford with a rubber dinghy and together with village volunteers were able to rescue people.

“If it had not been for the immediate response from outside volunteers and people in the village whose homes had already been destroyed, many lives would have been lost,” said Vicky le Roux, whose home on Long Market Street was gouged by the river coming through it.

“We’ve had bad storms before but never anything like this.”

A near-death drama unfolded in the early hours of Monday when Kerry-Ann and Kevin McCallum tried to escape the rising waters in their car with their four animals. Within seconds the car had started to move downstream.

“They were saved by the extraordinary efforts of those who risked their lives lassoing Keri and Kevin to safety and going back to rescue their pets,” said resident and journalist Peter Bruce.

Incredibly, there was no loss of life.

The mud-clearing operation has begun, jettisoned possessions are being collected, food is being ferried to the volunteers and working teams. Blankets, clothes and household goods are being donated thick and fast.

It will go on for weeks. Restaurants, ordinary folk and community groups from all sectors have come together like never before to heal the village they love. It is humbling. Today the sun is shining. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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