Thursday, May 9, 2013

Port Elizabeth Flood 1968

On Sunday morning, September the 1st, 1968, I was called by the SABC reporter on duty, Dave Gray, who said he could not make it to the office because the roads were flooded.

I was within walking distance and decided to stand in for him.

I will never forget that day. The few hundred meters to the news office on a hill in Cotswold was like walking through water. I had to cover my nose and mouth to breath. On arrival, the engineer on duty informed me that all the telephone lines were down.

What to do as a journalist -- without telephones (long before cell phones) and no transport? I discovered that a teletext machine was working and sent a message to the news room in Johannesburg that we were dealing with a major event, but I could not give more detail.

Sopping wet, I stripped down to my underpants...fruitlessly trying to get some life out of the four telephone lines there. On one, all I got was crossed lines and I realised that any party on the other side was somewhere in the city and could relate some of the surrounding details to me. One begged me to get off the line because he was sitting on his roof, and was desperately trying to get hold of an emergency service.

And so, from many mouths of panic struck P.E. Citizens, I was able to get a good picture of the havoc being wreaked out by 420 mm of rain that had fallen within 12 hours. At about noon, a police Saraccen pulled up in front of the office and four bedraggled police officers with no ranks less than colonel, and a number of traffic cops, including the Chief traffic officer, pounded on the door.

Still only in my jocks, I was informed that P.E. was facing a real crisis and the only way to reach the ctizens to inform them to stay indoors, was via the Radio. A number of public announcements followed on air and the first comprehensive report took up nearly the entire bulletin of Springbok Radio's World at One.

It was only two days later, on the Tuesday, that some of my colleagues made it to the newsroom.

Oblivious to the fatigue that had set in, I grabbed my Super 8 Cine camera and shot several reels of film.

They had been laying dormant for years, until I recently had them converted into a digital format and was able to compile this short documentary of the aftermath.

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