Child missing after flooding at Komsberg

24 Jan 2016 12:10pm
KOMSBERG, 24 JAN (NAMPA) – A three-year-old boy is missing after being swept away by strong waters in a flood that destroyed hundreds of the infamous reed houses of grape workers at Komsberg Thursday night.
After hours of steady rainfall, Komsberg – located in a valley right next to the Orange River some 70 kilometres west of the Ariamsvlei Border – received a heavy downpour of water from the surrounding mountains after a suspected cloudburst.
The toddler and the reed houses erected on both sides along a mouth to the Orange River became victims of the raging waters.
A total of 201 workers of Komsberg and Desert Fruit, both grape farms, were directly affected in the flood.
They lost their homes and many of their personal belongings.
Workers say they were shocked to witness water suddenly steaming towards them for about four hours from 16h00 until 22h00.
Rescuers from the police and the military were unable to reach the affected people that night as roads to the farm were washed away.
On Friday morning, more than two dozen officers from the Ministry of Defence’s Special Reserve Force and health workers of the Ministry of Health and Social Services were met by a shell-shocked community saddened by the loss of the young boy and the weight of the disaster.
“It is the first time I have witnessed such a thing,” Herbert Marungu, who sustained a wound to his knee, told Nampa on Friday.
People on the hardest-hit side of the river were assisted and pulled across by farm staff and those who could swim to the opposite side of the river.
The missing boy, his mother and a younger brother were being pulled across the inflow river when he was taken by the water towards the Orange River some 200 metres away.
Spokesman of the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) in //Kharas, Deputy Commissioner Rudolf Isaak, who also visited Komsberg on Friday, said a second search on Saturday also yielded no results.
Maj. Mathew Jeremia of the Defence Ministry said after providing first aid to the workers, 10 people, including the mother of the missing child and her younger son, were transported for further medical attention to Ariamsvlei.
“At least five sustained very serious injuries,” Jeremia said.
Several farm animals and pets were buried live underneath the ground.
Meanwhile, Swapo Party //Kharas Regional coordinator Matheus Mumbala, one of the first people on the scene, lashed out at the general manager of Komsberg Farming, Jannie Thiart, who he accused of abandoning the workers in their hour of need.
He demanded that the South African manager “pack and go”.
“His working permit should be revoked immediately,” an angry Mumbala said.
An upset Thiart dismissed the accusations, saying he was one of the first people along with two other managers of the farm who pulled people with logs and ropes out of the river throughout the night.
He said he arranged for 67 of the Komsberg workers to collect rations worth N.dollars 200 from the local store.
The other 124 affected workers are from Desert Fruit.
Many hundreds of farmworkers escaped the disaster as they are still on holiday.
Thiart said he was occupied for the whole of Friday to rehabilitate the road to the farm to allow assistance from the authorities to come through.
Human resources officer of Komsberg Farming, Hilda Shithigona confirmed Thiart’s version and said the company was doing everything in its power to stabilise the situation.
Wayne Smith of Desert Fruit slaughtered a cow for his farm’s workers, while the Governor’s Office through the //Karas Regional Office transported a tent and drought relief food supplies to Komsberg on the day of the crisis.
Workers said the fear that crept on them as the water approached and the blanket of darkness that enveloped them while they were searching for friends, relatives, colleagues and their belongings were one of the hardest things to bear amid the catastrophe that hit them.
The reed houses at the grape farms have for years been a bone of contention and a source of debate among farm owners, regional political councillors and the Government.
Mumbala said, “the disappearance of this little boy is a serious wake-up call”.