On Tuesday, Durban was wracked by a terrible storm. There was mass damage to infrastructure, roads were completely flooded and eight people tragically died. A minibus carrying University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) medical students back from their practical classes was caught on the flooded N2 highway. The Daily Vox spoke with Stacey Petzer and Stephanie Naidoo about what transpired as they escaped from the flooded vehicle.
Stephanie Nicole Naidoo, 22, Durban, occupational therapy student
There were about 10 of us third and fourth year occupational therapy students. When we got to the hospital, settled down and the weather seemed to get worse so we got notification from staff that told us the best idea would be for us to go back to university.
We exited the hospital and in about two to three minutes, the entire vehicle misted up and we couldn’t see anything. Our supervisor warned us not to go onto the main roads. Two of our class members decided to go out the vehicle to guide our driver out of the rural roads so we could get onto the main roads. At this point the water was knee high. We knew that in a few hours we are probably going to be in a hectic storm according to forecasts.
We got out of the rural area and drove for about five minutes as the weather calmed down, we then got stuck in a traffic jam. Then we started to see water slowly building up around the cars and felt the minibus floating back. We panicked but felt safer than others as we were in a minibus which meant we were higher off the ground.
At this point we were videoing stuff and sending to our classmates and still not as panicked as we were not anticipating what was about to occur. The water slowly started to seep in through the doors of the bus so I told my friends to get their belongings ready because I knew something was about to happen. The water flowed in and the doors got jammed so we couldn’t get out. Our first instinct was to get out through the windows so we opened them and some of us got out. We underestimated the actual height of the water because one of my friends is quite short and jumped out through the window and was fully submerged in the water causing her to hit her head underwater. In a matter of 60 seconds we all jumped out.
My supervisor and a stranger helped us as we formed a chain with other drivers to get to the other side of the road. Then we walked up a hill onto the main roads and walked a kilometre to Toyota who were helpful enough and housed 15 of us until we got back to our bus when the roads cleared up.
It was quite a traumatic hour. We did not expect this. Videos and pictures don’t depict the real experiences and feelings we experienced. The screams, injuries and intensity of the rain and water pressure was only something you could understand if you were at the scene. Before jumping out we called our parents who were panicking just as much as us. We weren’t even sure if our electronic devices were going to function after we got out of the water. Some of the most important factors that assisted us through this ordeal was the support that we got from each another along with the assistance of our dedicated and brave driver, supervisor and unknown young man. It was scary because we didn’t know our fate.
There’s so many natural disasters around the world however, South Africa and Durban specifically have not experienced many. We were not adequately equipped for this encounter. Some advice would be to not take all updates and broadcasts lightly and make yourself aware with what is occurring around you. This will assist in preparing with potential coping mechanisms and strategies to not only assist yourself but others too.
Stacey Petzer, 21, Glenwood, occupational therapy student
Our supervisor told us we had to leave our prac venue because the storm’s getting really bad. When we left initially, two of the girls had to guide the kombi out of the road because we couldn’t see how the deep the water was. We thought that would be the worst of it but when we got onto the N2 it just got so much worse.
When we got onto the N2 northbound from Prospecton near Isipingo we could see there had been an accident. We could see all the red lights and the freeway had come to a standstill. The roads had started to flood but it wasn’t bad yet. With time, the floods started to get higher and higher and we could see how high the water was getting on the concrete barrier. Eventually we saw cars being pushed backwards by the water. There was no one in the cars and the cars were flowing with the water. We thought we would be fine because we were in the kombi but when the water started to flow into the kombi we thought we had to get out of it. We tried to open the door but the door wasn’t opening with the water pressure. We all climbed out of the kombi through the windows – there were about 10 of us. We had originally tried to get on the back of this truck where our supervisor from UKZN was but we realised the back of the truck was also going to flood. We needed to get onto the other side of the freeway which was not flooded. For some reason, that side of the freeway was not flooded. It had a little bit of puddles but not nearly as much water as the other side.
We all climbed out, the water was so deep that one of the girls got sucked into the water as she was climbing out. We couldn’t actually see her because the water was so brown. One of the other students had seen her ponytail sticking out so we managed to get her out but it just showed how strong the current, it was actually pulling people under.
We all managed to get out. There was an amazing gentleman who ran across from the other side when he saw us trying to cross the freeway. We never got to get his name but he helped us to the other side. Our supervisor and the bus driver was also really helpful. We actually walked under the bridge. We were all soaked and we decided to look for some shelter because we didn’t know how much worse the storm was going to get. We walked to Toyota at Prospecton and they very graciously took us in. they allowed us to take one of their offices and change out of our wet clothes and put on black plastic bags to try and keep warm.
When the water went down and the ground had a chance to absorb the water, our supervisor and bus driver went back to try and get the bus jump-started again. They did manage but my supervisor’s Jeep had completely flooded. It was covered in mud, just like the inside of the kombi but it wouldn’t start.
The water in the kombi had almost reached the seats, we could see the water line marking the side of the kombi.
We all phoned our parents to tell them we loved them, goodbye and that we’d talk to them when we knew what was happening. They were freaking out. Adrenaline was pumping, when we finally got out of the river a few of us just burst into tears because we were actually safe. I hit my knee against the concrete barrier when I was jumping over it and I didn’t even feel it. I’m feeling it now though. The atmosphere was so intense, we all just went into survival mode and knew we needed to get everyone out.
Being university students, we all had our laptops on us. The fourth years had their honours research presentations on their laptops, which was due on Wednesday, so it was kind of survival and making sure our laptops were out of the water.
We had gotten a storm warning but we just laughed and thought there was going to be a bit of rain. Never for once did we think we were going to be stuck in something like that. I’ve seen photos of things like that never thinking I would ever be in that situation where I had to jump out of a kombi window to get to safety.