The perils of country life

Country living isn’t all long walks in Hunter boots and Barbour jackets.

Every now and then nature reminds you of her immense power. Being in the countryside means that you are vividly exposed to her forces, her sudden displays of might and energy.

The Wakkerstroom wetland floods after over 100mm falls overnight

On Friday 29 December 2017, it began to rain heavily. It was steady and continuous and just when you thought it would ease a little it became even stronger. The sound on our tin roof was deafening and the cats sneaked off and hid themselves away. When the hail started coming down, even the dogs began to look worried.

We were just priding ourselves on being holed up in our cosy, dry little home. Our permanent leaks, although allowing a drip here and there, seemed to be pretty much under control.

In the meantime, the blocked storm water drains around the town began to overflow and spread across the dirt roads and land. The Wakkerstroom river swelled and pushed over its banks into the surrounding wetlands and fields.

The area right outside our back door and looking down towards the vlei

One often hears about flash floods but nothing really prepares you for a sudden river sweeping past your kitchen door, pouring underneath with such force that in seconds the rooms start to flood with icy, muddy water.

We ran for bailing containers and towels to stop the flow. Instantly the towels were soaked and rendered useless. We piled on any dry mats or implements that could prevent more water coming on board.

Doning rubber boots, we were astonished to see that the water was well over our ankles. Our cat Vespa, had hidden himself behind our dishwasher, which was fast becoming the worst place to be as the water was welling up in that area being at a lower level.  Hearing him cry, I managed to rescue him from a chilly puddle and shut him safely in the bedroom with the other cat and the two dogs.

Geoff bailed like a demon and then built a makeshift dam wall outside the door in an attempt to reduce the volume of water coming into the house. Luckily it worked. Outside, our garden had become a lake with a strong river flowing past the side of the house.

Eventually there was a break in the downpour. Over 85 ml had fallen in the last two hours. Our neighbours, Niek and Ina came by as we were inspecting our “dam wall”. The weight of the hail had collapsed the shelter above their small tomato plantation. The road between our house and theirs was a total lake. They warned of the spitting cobras or ringhals snakes that would be forced out of their nests. They had seen one the previous day.

Accidents happen in the blink of an eye. Geoff was out of sight rescuing a goose from the jaws of our German Shepherd, Paddy, when D’arcy our Golden Retriever, who was paddling on the edge of the swollen culvert, suddenly went in too deep and was instantly sucked into the narrow underground storm water pipe that ran beneath the road. (Picture 1 below taken after the water subsided)

Screaming for Geoff, I raced towards her only to see her completely disappear beneath the roaring swirl of white water. My heart stopped. We knew that the underground pipes were never serviced and could easily be blocked. How on earth would a 35 kg dog make it all the way through? Nick and I ran to the other end. (Distance is indicated in Picture 2.) We waited for what seemed like ages, but there was no sign of her. Sobbing I dashed back to the other end to see if perhaps she had been caught close to the entrance. I realized it was impossible to see anything and too dangerous to attempt to get close to the mouth of the pipe.

In a panic I raced back again to the outlet reaching it just too late…. Darcy was expelled from the pipe and rapidly swept past, through a short gap (see Picture 3) into the next underground pipe. I saw just enough of her rolling eyes and panicked paws to see that she was still alive. I was beyond horrified that I’d missed the chance to grab her and she was now entering another section of underground, water-filled pipe (Picture 4). How could I expect to be lucky a second time.

I tore over to the outlet of the second section. (Picture 5) I decided to take no chances of her being washed further down the raging gutter this time. I climbed into the powerful stream. My boots filled with the ice cold water. I was wearing a white top, but I didn’t care. As the thought crossed my mind that I was potentially doing something quite dangerous, D’arcy was spewed out through the pipe and I managed to grab her, flinging my weight towards her and the bank. Niek and Geoff arrived in time to help drag us both out of harms way.

(Later Geoff and I tried to time the length of time she was underwater. I re-enacted what I recalled, dashing about while Geoff  timed me. D’arcy had been underwater for about a minute.) She seemed fine although her breathing began to worsen after an hour or so and she began to throw up masses of phlegm. Google warned that a dog can still die 2-3 days after a near drowning. We decided to take no chances. Although it was late and another storm was on its way, the local vet Gin, agreed to drive out to the surgery in Volksrust to treat D’arcy. It was bucketing down and we struggled to see even a short distance ahead. We crawled into town, wary of hitting a cow on the rural road. Gin turned out to be an angel. She was kind and calm and she gave Darcy shots – cortisone, as well as something to drain the water in her lungs and to prevent infection. D’arcy seemed to know Gin was saving her life and just before we left she placed a paw on Gin’s knee as if to say thank you.

I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of the mental image of her little face desperately trying to gasp for air in the turbulent water and clawing for the surface. But I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that she is ok. 🙏


D’arcy cuddles up with Geoff after her ordeal and her trip to the vet



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