Christmas Eve flash floods kill at least 6 in South Africa

Storms and heavy rain are forecast to continue into the New Year, making search and rescue efforts difficult and keeping residents in danger of more flooding.

LADYSMITH, South Africa – A Christmas Eve flood in South Africa claimed the lives of six people while the search for 10 more continues.

Heavy rains in Ladysmith, South Africa, on Sunday caused a river to burst its banks. Rushing waters inundated the town and a road packed with families, many trying to make it home to celebrate the holiday.

"This resulted in severe damage to infrastructure, and several vehicles were swept away," the KwaZulu-Natal agency of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs reported in a statement. "Additionally, one household located near a Caravan Park was completely destroyed. Sadly, three family members were swept away. During the search and rescue operation, one family member was found deceased, while the other two are still missing."

Search and rescue crews with canine units found three vehicles that had been washed into the river. Three passengers were found dead in a camper carrying nine, the others are still missing. Searchers also found one passenger each in a car and a van, while the other passenger in each vehicle is still missing.

"So far we have only managed to find six bodies," said a spokesperson for the COGTA in a local TV interview. "It is very worrying that we are expecting more."


Video showed rescuers wading through the still inundated floodplain, trying to locate the missing. The dogs leaped and swam from bank to bank.

The still flooded area, swollen rivers and floating debris has made the search difficult and dangerous. Crews found belongings that were washed out of homes, and high-water marks that serve as a reminder of the power of the water. Not even children were spared. One searcher found a stuffed animal stuck on a branch. Another found bedding and a mattress tangled in a tree.


Deadly floodwaters claim more lives

About 150 miles east of Ladysmith, the flooding took more victims early Tuesday morning.

"Information received so far indicates that three people were attempting to cross the river near Mandeni when two of the three were swept away," IPSS Search and Rescue announced in a statement. "The missing victims are aged 8 years old and 37 years old."

A canine unit found the body of the 8-year-old girl more than a half-mile downstream. The adult is still missing.

More heavy rain on the way

The South African Weather Service has more rain and thunderstorms in the forecast into the New Year. 

"We know that people near the holidays will be traveling from one place to another, but we want them to drive with caution and make sure that where there's water we advise that you postpone the trip," a government spokesperson said.