Rio Pungwe in Flood

In early April 1974, my little family and I packed for the bush and headed north again, through Rhodesia. Filling the tank and an extra jerrycan with petrol at Umtali, we crossed the border and headed for Beira, not intending to stop.

FloodHowever, the rains had been especially heavy, that season, and as we entered the Rio Pungwe floodplain, it was evident that the whole countryside was still flooded.

Towards dusk, we were approaching some of the worst area. Huts at the roadside were only showing their rooftops and the inhabitants were huddled in makeshift shelters on the sides of the ribbon of elevated roadside, waiting patiently for the waters to subside. The dark closed in and we ploughed through ever increasing puddles; the tarmac of the road completely disappearing in places. The road became a series of ellipses, water lapping and eroding the rarely visible edges.

Trying to keep the engine out of the deep centres of the puddles, I drove to the side, eventually misjudging the embankment and sent two wheels over the edge. The Landy sank to its axle on that side, tilting dangerously, half off the bank. Greet screamed, Nicci rolled against the door.

We scrambled out, put a blanket around Nicci and stopped a passing truck. The driver had no tow rope with which to haul the Landy back onto the road. Greet got into the cab with our baby to go to a place up ahead where he said there was a tractor that might be hired to pull us out.

So it was that my wife and child disappeared into the rainy night with a stranger.

Other big lorries passed, their drivers leaning out of their cabs to yell caustic comments about sticking to the centre of the road. Eventually, soaked and despondent, too fearful of getting back into the cab lest it tip over completely, I told my tale to three men in a Peugeot 404 station-wagon that stopped. They took me with them to search for Greet and possibly, a tractor.

We wandered from place to place; a farmer was not at home, the grader driver from the construction camp was boozing in town, the waterworks gate-guard professed to have seen nobody enter the yard. We got as far as the village of Dondo without success, but miraculously, I got through to the Hotel Mozambique in Beira and spoke to Spine B.J. van Niekerk, the party leader, who had had no news of Greet, but that I should come through to Beira, if I thought my Landy was safe to leave.

Over a once-tarred road we bounced and sloshed our way to Beira. My companions told me that the eroding ground had sagged and broken the pipeline with Beira’s water supply, so, despite the flood, the city had no water.

At the Hotel Mozambique, William Bond to me that all the rest of the teams had arrived safely. Then, relief! Spine told me that Greet had phoned – she was sheltering with a family at the waterworks, only four km from our Landy.

I took the company Land Rover Stationwagon to fetch her, and to thank those hospitable people at the waterworks. If the watchman had been awake, it would have saved us lot of anxiety. When we were loading our cases and Nicci’s essentials from my stranded vehicle, a passing truck with a chain hauled it out onto fairly solid ground. Just as well, because it had sunk another four inches while we were gone. It started at first touch. So, with Greet driving the company vehicle, we made our bumpy way back to Beira.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 6 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom - #1' 'Medicinal Purposes Only - #2', and 'Children Apart - #3; and 'Tribes of Hillbrow'; all from Southern Africa.
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