Missing shepherds safe and sound in the snow

WINTER WONDERLAND: Eight guests at the luxury Tenahead Mountain Lodge at Rhodes were stranded for a week Picture: SUPPLIED
WINTER WONDERLAND: Eight guests at the luxury Tenahead Mountain Lodge at Rhodes were stranded for a week Picture: SUPPLIED
The 45 shepherds reported missing in the snow-covered mountains near Mount Fletcher are safe.

Three herdsmen died after heavy snowfall in the Tabase area in Joe Gqabi district last week.

A huge, collaborative search-and-rescue operation was launched involving emergency experts from the SAPS, SAPS air wing, Joe Gqabi disaster management, fire and rescue teams and the SANDF.

The 45 herdsmen were trapped in high-lying areas above the villages of Vuvu, Satube and Lundini, where 50cm-deep snow blanketed the mountains.

The operation was called off yesterday.

Joe Gqabi director of community services and disaster management Fiona Sephton said rescuers found many shelters vacant after herdsmen managed to get off the snowy slopes themselves.

But most shepherds opted not to abandon their livestock and only one shepherd was evacuated.

“They wished to remain and care for their sheep. Additional blankets were given to them.”

She said rescue teams saw live sheep, cattle and horses on the mountain. No dead animals were spotted. The department of rural development and agrarian reform delivered animal feed to Mount Fletcher, she said.

At the luxury Tenahead Mountain Lodge at Rhodes, eight weekend guests who ended up being snowed in for seven days, finally made it off the Naude’s Nek Mountain on Sunday.

River Hotels operations manager Justin Bester said the stranded guests, who checked in on July 22,were due to leave on Monday 24, but heavy snowfalls forced them to “extend their stay”.

Bester said although there was enough food, the lodge ran out of gas for gas heaters and frozen pipes meant taps ran dry for eight days.

“Water was our biggest challenge. We melted snow which was used for toilets and baths.”

He said while electricity was down, generators kicked in in the mornings and afternoons and guests huddled in front of fires in their bedrooms to keep the freezing winter chill at bay.

Guests in four vehicles who were eventually towed out, would never “forget their experience”.

At Tiffindell Ski Resort 170 guests and staff were holed up from Monday to Saturday. Owner Lew Campbell urged the public not to attempt to go up the Carlisle Hoek Pass between Rhodes and the resort.

Sephton warned of the possibility of localised flooding when snow begins to melt.

l Another fast-moving strong cold front will drop more snow on the mountains tomorrow evening, said forecaster Garth Sampson. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za