Pretoria – Considerable state and private sector resources have been marshalled for the rescue of survivors and the recovery of bodies after Masowe church members were swept away by flash floods in the Jukskei River in Joburg.
The “white garments” church members were allegedly holding a baptism ceremony in the river on Saturday, when they were hit by the floods.
By Monday morning, the death toll had risen to 14, while emergency personnel were scouring the area, led by rescue dogs.
National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesperson Craig Lambinon said Netcare 911 ambulance services alerted their teammates in Gauteng to the tragedy after 4pm on Saturday.
“NSRI Gauteng, City of Johannesburg EMS, Gauteng Government Health EMS, Johannesburg Fire and Rescue Services from Sandton Fire Station, CPF Security, SAPS, police divers and the police K9 Search and Rescue (unit) responded to muster at Arkwright Avenue where a search commenced for what was believed to be 18 missing persons washed away by the fast-flowing Jukskei River,” said Lambinon.
He said that during an initial search, fire and rescue services located a woman, and the NSRI rescue swimmers and police divers recovered the body of another woman on a sandbank in the Jukskei River, at the Grayston Drive Bridge on Katherine Street.
“An adult female was recovered by fire and rescue services officers near to Arkwright Avenue and she was transported to hospital by ambulance in a stable condition, suffering hypothermia,” said Lambinon.
“NSRI were notified that emergency services had located and recovered the body of a female teenager and the body had been taken into the care of Government Health Forensic Pathology Services.”
A Fidelity security helicopter, with thermal imaging sensors, also joined in the search
He said that during the night, congregants were attempting to determine who of their members remained missing.
“On Sunday morning, NSRI Vaal Dam and NSRI Hartbeespoort Dam joined NSRI Gauteng, Johannesburg Fire and Rescue Services, Gauteng Government Health EMS, City of Johannesburg EMS, SAPS, police divers, the police K9 Search and Rescue, Sarsa (Search and Rescue South Africa) and CPF Security in the ongoing search,” Lambinon said.
“During Sunday, in challenging conditions, sadly, 12 bodies were located and recovered: near to Witkoppen Road, Rivonia, an adult female; near to Kramerville, Sandton, two adult males; near to the corners of Grayston Drive and Katherine Street, a male child and a female toddler; near to Morningside Manor, a female child and two adult females; near to Froom Street, Atholl, an adult female; near to South Road, Rivonia, an adult male; near to Morningside Manor, an adult female; and near to The Terraces at 12th Avenue, Alexandra, an adult female.”
The bodies recovered on Sunday brought the death toll to 14. The survivor who was rescued and transported to hospital is expected to make a full recovery.
“It has not been ruled out that one or more cases may not be related to the church baptism and may be from isolated incidents that had not been reported. Investigations are continuing,” said Lambinon.
“Our thoughts are with the families of those that remain missing and condolences are conveyed to the families of the deceased.”