Four friends experienced the icy grip of Lesotho’s weather on the weekend when a trip to see the snow ended in their spending almost 24 hours buried in the stuff.
They were just a few of the many drivers reportedly stranded in the mountains over the weekend.
Raymond Shepherd, his girlfriend Shani Coetzee and friends Jan Thuynsma and Anli Moller were captivated by reports of snow, and wanted to go and see it for themselves. They were among many who felt the brunt of a weekend of wild weather that left five people dead, stranded motorists overnight, displaced 2 000 Port Elizabeth residents from their homes and inspired others to search for outdoor thrills.
On Saturday morning, the two couples took their Toyota 4X4s and drove in tandem towards Lesotho.
By about 2pm they were unable to continue after they hit snow banks. They were stranded about 17km from the Kao Diamond Mine.
Concerned with keeping warm, the four piled into Shepherd’s Toyota Fortuner and kept the engine running to maintain heat.
Shepherd, a member of 4x4community.co.za, posted an alert on the website’s forum, where hundreds of messages of support and advice came through.
After eight hours of waiting the car thermometer indicated that the temperatures had dropped to -10ºC and the engine failed after the diesel inside had frozen solid.
“We were lucky enough to be prepared,” Shepherd said on Monday morning, explaining that many blankets, thick clothes and huddling together was enough to keep the foursome cosy enough to sleep.
Early on Sunday morning, they were found by mine workers who arrived in the area to clear the snow. A while later the roads were opened and they were able to start their cars and head home.
“I think we’ve all had our fill of snow after this weekend,” Shepherd told The Star on Monday morning.
But to his internet buddies, Shepherd had this to say: “THANKS more than a million to everyone that posted, took our SMSs, sent support and advice.”
Emergency service ER24 headed to Lesotho on Sunday morning after receiving numerous distress calls from motorists trapped on the Butha Buthe pass on the way to the Afri-Ski mountain resort and Oxbow Lodge, said ER24 spokesman Werner Vermaak.
Paramedics found nearly 30 vehicles stuck, or having been involved in collisions after skidding on ice, in a scene that stretched 1.5km.
“People were found with slight hypothermia and dehydration.
“One of the patients was a diabetic and needed urgent assistance as his medication was running out. Another was treated for asthma. A heavily pregnant woman and a child with croup were also assessed,” said Vermaak.
The 4x4 club helped the emergency workers get to some areas.
By the end of the day, 41 people had been taken to a temporary clinic near Fouriesburg.
Once medically cleared, they were taken to guest houses in the area.
Countrywide, the worst-hit areas were the Free State and Eastern and Western Cape. The Eastern Cape also suffered floods. Five were reported killed around the country.
Police spokesman Mzukisi Fatyela said a man, 69, and a woman, 44, froze to death in Mqanduli and Mthatha respectively in the Eastern Cape. They were found lying on roadsides on Sunday morning.
Three others drowned in Port Elizabeth, SABC radio reported.
By on Sunday morning, road closures and flooding were so bad in Port Elizabeth that 2 000 people had been evacuated. More heavy rain was expected in the Eastern Cape on Monday and residents were advised to avoid low-lying areas.
In Joburg, temperatures plummeted but there were no reports of weather-associated deaths.
Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said the only blackouts had been in the Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape, where conditions were too dangerous for mechanics to do repairs.
She said due to road closures in the Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape, they had to use off-road vehicles and helicopters to access some areas.
Joffe said they had not experienced problems with over-demand on the grid, but with the cold weather continuing, the grid would be tight on Monday.
SA Weather Service forecaster Edwin Thema said no more snow was predicted, but cold temperatures would continue through to Wednesday in many parts of the country.
Vereeniging was predicted to be the coldest place last night, with temperatures of -4ºC.
Joburg dropped to -1ºC in some parts. The Star IOLSA