Thursday, January 20, 2011

Floods ...

January 2011 has been a terrible month for floods ... floods in Sri Lanka, Australia, Brazil, and even here in Pretoria, Upington and Natal. Thousands have lost everything they possess, hundreds have lost their lives. It's easy to forget that exactly thirty years ago, on January 25 1981, there was a flood in the Karoo so violent that engineers described it as a 'one-in-two-thousand-years' event. An incredible 200mm of rain fell in just eight minutes on the already-sodden Moordenaarskaroo, and a wall of water tore down the Buffels River. In minutes it destroyed more than half of the little town of Laingsburg, and over a hundred people lost their lives.

If Laingsburg had been the size of present-day Cape Town, the number of lives lost would proportionately have been nearly half a million ...

We started the research for our map of the Swartberg and the Little Karoo in 2009, but in reality it started much, much earlier. In 1991 - ten years after the flood - we visited Laingsburg to confirm details for a novel I was writing about the flood. We stayed in the Laingsburg Hotel, its passages hung with poignant photographs of the disaster, of distraught people, helicopters, destroyed homes. We drove down the Ladismith road to the Witteberg Bridge, and out on the farm road to Geelbek, seeking locations along the river for our tale. The bone-dry bed of the Buffels River was several hundred metres wide, showing flashes of colour between the karoo-brown stones - bits of motor car, here a mangle, there a kettle, here a piece of old, brass bedstead. Ten years after the flood the signs were still everywhere, even to the mats of dried grass in the very tops of the surviving trees.

I've spent most of the past week mapping in and around Laingsburg, deliminating its contours and its dry river bed, its bustling National Main Road, its sleepy township named by the locals after the huge sign, picked out in white stones on the dry hill behind the town - 'Dra Wol' ('Wear Wool'). It's been a memory trip, reminding me of the flood and the story I wrote. Every now and then I've snatched a look at Google Earth, too. If you thought the Karoo was a desert, have a look at Google Earth - almost every inch shows that this is a region subjected - albeit rarely - to extreme floods. Go to -33.1732; 20.8877 and zoom down to 2.5km for an example that's just north of Laingsburg!

There's a lot more work to do on the map, but we're still hoping for publication by Easter - more later.

The novel was 'Flood Sunday', originally published by Tafelberg, now out of print (it went to three impressions!). We're hoping to get a pdf version up on the website someday! Here is one of Ann Snaddon's brilliant sketches for the story ...

- Kaartman, Thursday,

Oh yes, here are a couple of useful links if you want to know more ...

Molly commented:

Lovely post! Very excited to see what happens in this space - well done. x
By Molly on Floods ... at 9:19 PM

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