Written by Neil Harmse
Chapter 16. A Storm to Remember
Living in the bush has its memorable moments, as well as its problems and dangers, but the dangers are not always from wild animals. One of the most frightening moments during my time living in the bush was caused by the elements generating a storm of frightening proportions. In February of 1984, the tropical cyclone Domoina had developed from Madagascar and crossed over Mozambique, through Swaziland, (then) Zululand and parts of the eastern Lowveld, leaving a trail of devastating destruction across the region. Fortunately, the storm just brushed along the southern Kruger Park, which did not suffer the full effects of the might of the cyclone.
About 18 months after this cyclone, having recovered and repaired the damage caused, and with worries about these storm systems all but forgotten, we carried on with life as normal. I happened to be at home with my family for a few days and not in the bush on control work or patrol. The day was very hot and humid, and the children were cooling off in the pool when my wife, Sue, pointed westwards and said the sky was unusually dark, with black clouds rolling in. We felt there was a heavy thunderstorm and possibly rain and hail on the way. Sue asked Janet to collect the cushions from the garden chairs, which were being blown around and on her way back to the house, the wind actually blew her off her feet. We called the children inside, brought the dogs into the house as well, and decided to get a pot of coffee on the boil and wait it out.
Not long after settling in the house, the wind started gusting with a force that rattled windows and doors. The sky became very dark, almost night-time black, and soon large drops of rain splattered against the windows and roof. Then the hail started, small at first, but then the stones increased to the size of golf balls. In the dark and rain, there was no way of getting outside to start the generator so that we could switch the lights on, so we simply lit a few Dietz lanterns and, with coffee and biscuits, decided to simply sit out the storm, as there was nothing else to do. The hail sounded like gunshots hammering and banging against the windows and on the corrugated iron roof of the house. With all the noise, conversation was impossible. I must admit that I was very worried and frightened, as this was the worst storm I had ever experienced, but I was trying to keep calm to show the children that there was nothing to be scared of. Sue and I, both very concerned, tried to make light of the situation to prevent them from panicking.
Our roof destroyed in the storm with hail on the ground.
Janet, who was about six years old at the time, wanted to get one of her dolls from her room. She had barely reached the passage when a terrible screeching and tearing sound seemed to come from all around. I ran through the house to the bedrooms and was shocked to see the sky above. The roof was ripping loose and peeling off overhead. It was really a frightening experience! Hail and rain were simply pouring into the house from overhead. The children were now in total panic and I must admit that I was not far off myself. In a situation such as this, where you have no control, it is truly terrifying. Sue and I grabbed the children, ran to the dining room and climbed onto the dining table. Water was flooding like a river down the passage through the house and out of the veranda and kitchen doors.
After what seemed like hours, but in reality could not have been more than 30 minutes or so, the storm appeared to decline in force and the rain and hail seemed to be stopping. The house inside was in a total shambles. Furniture, bedding and everything inside was drenched, carpets, mats, lion and leopard skins on the floors had been washed into heaps against the walls and doors, and ankle-deep water was still flowing through the house.
Once we could venture outside, the damage was quite a shock. One section of the house roof had ripped and peeled off and the ceiling covers inside were gone. The carport was blown away and the dog kennel had been lifted by the wind and dumped onto the bonnet of my Range Rover. A large acacia tree had broken off and wound up in the swimming pool. Our veggie garden and flowerbeds were virtually gone. Everything was in chaos. When we could eventually drive to the other side of the farm, we saw that other houses had suffered the same fate as ours and the farm school for staff children was totally missing its roof, which had been completely ripped off the structure.
Once you have experienced the power that nature can unleash, you realise how very vulnerable and powerless we mere humans are against the elements. Only by God’s grace and mercy are we protected from harm in a situation such as this. I admit that I was really scared facing this force: I would rather face a charging elephant, buffalo or lion than ever have to go through anything like that again.
The school building without a roof.
The roof blown off living quarters.