District Mayor Councillor MPP Nhlabathi provides moral support to accident victims

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Mpumalanga has started the festive season in the worst possible way after 14 people lost their lives after a bridge between Ermelo and Lothair collapsed because of heavy rains.  Among the dead were three children under the age of five.  By Tuesday afternoon, police divers from Middelburg, Mpumalanga were still searching for a toddler, aged 18 months old, who was in one of the cars that plunged into a river that collapsed after being destroyed by heavy rains that fell from December 10.  By lunchtime on December 11, the divers and a sniffer police dog which helped to recover four lifeless bodies in the nearby river, were still searching for the toddler who was still unaccounted for.  Gert Sibande District Municipality Executive Mayor, Councillor Mishack Nhlabathi visited the scene of the accident soon after it occurred in the evening of December 10 on Ermelo and Lothair Road from Ermelo.  Four cars had been swept away by the floods after the bridge collapsed when it was flooded by heavy rains. The cars that were swept away were: a taxi full of passengers travelling from Benoni in Johannesburg to Mpuluzi, two bakkies and a BMW 5 series sedan.  During the evening, government emergency units managed to discover seven bodies and took the survivors to the nearby Ermelo Provincial Hospital to be treated for minor and some, serious injuries.

Captain Carla Prinsloo, SAPS spokesperson in Ermelo confirmed that seven bodies from the four vehicles were discovered by the police on the 10th of December.  She said five other bodies were discovered on the 11th ofDSC 0982 December after a thorough routine search. She said from their count, only  nine people survived the horrific accident. It later emerged that two other bodies were also discovered, and this put the number to 14 people who died in the flooding.  After spending a sleepless night due to the nature of the accident that Executive Mayor Nhlabathi witnessed on the Monday of December 10, he then visited the survivors at Ermelo Provincial Hospital the following day.  He went there to comfort the survivors and hear first-hand what had happened the previous night when the accident happened.  Dudu Vudla, who was in Ermelo Hospital, who comes from Dun Donald related her whole agony of the accident to the Executive Mayor and said: “We were on a taxi from Johannesburg to Dun Donald when the taxi driver was disturbed by a bakkie and suddenly all cars one after another were swept into to the deep water.  Vudla, who was visited by his elder brother in hospital on Tuesday morning after being admitted, said san unknown person helped some of the survivors after the accident.  “He saved us one by one DSC 1091by pulling us out of the taxi and into safety,” said Vudla.  One of the survivors was an unaccompanied minor who said his sister put him in a taxi and said he will be met by relatives in Dun Donald. He was admitted in hospital with a cast in his left hand, and when the team from Gert Sibande District Municipality visited with Executive Mayor Councillor Nhlabathi, there were three patients treated at the hospital’s x-ray section.  “But I can’t recall what happened after that. I don’t know the driver’s whereabouts, but other bodies were trapped in the kombi when we fell into the river.”  The taxi was carrying passengers from Mayflower, Dun Donald, Mpuluzi and Lothair in the Chief Albert Luthuli Local Municipality.

Councillor Nhlabathi was also accompanied by Councillor Sipho Bongwe, Executive Mayor of Msukaligwa Local Municipality in Ermelo, just 20km from the accident scene.  Councillor Bongwe also visited Ermelo Provincial Hospital when he met Councillor Nhlabathi and they drove to the scene where the bridge had collapsed.  Councillor Bongwe also survived the same accident when his car almost drove into the ditch after the bridge collapsed on the same night. He was driving with his wife and child when he witnessed some of the accident victims perish.DSC 1004

He said he was saved God’s grace when he was driving from Lothair on the same road of the accident scene on the night of December 10th.  He says he is still emotional about the accident on how he was stopped by cars who parked on the other side road which were divided by a huge hole.  “Since it was at night, I was travelling closer to the people who were shouting on the other side of the road but because other cars were still trapped in the river, I stopped and provided lighting to them because it was too dark.  “After a short while I went back and took the car while about to proceed, all I can remember was the scream of my child and my wife and everyone shouting loudly at me and that’s when I stopped the car next to the collapsed bridge. I thank God for saving me.

Executive Mayors Nhlabathi and Bongwe both sent their condolences to all families and friends who lost their relatives in the accident.  Other dignitaries who visited the scene include Dr Mkhize, the Provincial Director -General in the Office of the Premier (David Mabuza).  They gave support to the families who lost their loved ones.  Mngomezulu family from Dun Donald lost four family members who were travelling on one of the bakkies.  They watched in dismay as a tow truck pulled the bakkie out of the river.  Mkhize, together with HOD from DSRSC arranged counselling for the families and also promised to provide further assistance to the families, including visiting them.  MEC for Safety and Liaison Vusi Shongwe was at the accident scene and extended his condolences to the families and friends who lost their loves ones.  Shongwe said while the province has an awareness programme on road safety this festive season, he cautioned the community to be alert about the bad rainy weather where flooded rivers sweep away bridges at times.   “We have unpredicted rainy weather in the country and I urged all road users to be vigilant and observant when driving towards places such as bridges and rivers before attempting to cross or drive past,” said Shongwe.  Police have appealed to the community to assist them in identifying the 14 bodies which were discovered after the horrific accident.

The survivors are:

1.Doctor Maseko – Dun Donald

2.Dudu Vudla- Dun Donald

3.Siphesihle Kubheka- Benoni- Dun Donald

4.Nkosinathi Shongwe- Benoni-Dun Donald

5.Madoda Ngwenya- Dun Donald

6.Sizwe Ngwenya-Dun Donald

7.Hlengiwe Xaba- Mpuluzi

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