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laingsburg flood pictures (38)

Laingsburg Flood


The day of the Buffels River


The Laingsburg flood in 1981 January 25 is recognized as the biggest natural disaster in the history of South Africa. The rain started on the weekend of 24th and 25 January 1981, but more in the Moordenaars Karoo, the northern part of the town. The estimated rainfall during the weekend of 24 and 25 January 1981 were 425mm, whereas the normal rainfall per annum is 175 mm.


The Buffels River already overflowed its banks around 08h00 the morning of Sunday 25th January 1981. At the same time two rivers named Baviaans and Wilgerhout integrate with the Buffels, meaning there was a much higher volume of water accumulated at one time. The latter integrate just in front of the railway bridge. The level of the water started to rise in town about 12h00 and at 14h00, the town (CBD) was almost fully covered. While the water rose by seconds there was no time for those still at home to take any belongings with them. Most of the residents were used to water level rising from time to time up to their doorsteps, particular those located next to the Buffels River.


Those trapped in their houses fled to their roof for safety, but eventually the roofs collapsed. The speed and volume of water was higher and stronger in the southern part of the town because of its location and obstruction in and around river i.e. railway and N1 national road bridges. All houses were swept away in no time and so were the people.


Consequently, about 140 people lost their lives. One Hundred and four (140) people were from Laingsburg and others from the surrounding towns such as Montague, Ladismith, and Zoar. It is said that about 12 people were washed downstream and eventually rescued at the Floriskraal dam about 21km`s outside town. Many bodies were unidentified or not even found. 26 years ago this all happened.


The children of the district used to play in the river after lunch on a Sunday afternoon, but that day, Sunday 25 January 1981, was different. It took the lives of nine children from one family, named Diko. That was the biggest loss of a single family. Many recovered bodies were buried in the flood cemetery of Laingsburg.


Today the flood level can still be seen at buildings in town. It is also indicated in town by means of a signboard. Flood experts reckon that this was the biggest flood that Laingsburg had experienced in many years.

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Taken on February 2, 2010