Short summary flood

Laingsburg has become a Historical Landmark through the devastating flood of 25 Jan 1981, when 425mm of rain through two days cubed a blockage at the railway bridge which flooded ¾ of the town. Warning were not heeded or believed, the result of which that many people were trapped and forced to the roofs from where many were washed off into the raging river ending up in the Floriskraaldam 20km downstream. !2 Survivors lived and told their ordeal. At the height of the flood-18h00 the water pressure against the bridge was estimated at 8000 kw meter at about the same time the gravel filled embankment having been eroded moving water gave way and the town was emptied within an hour and rescue operations took over.
Visit Flood Museum for full documentation.

25 January 1981

is recognised as one of the biggest natural disasters in South African History


The Laingsburg flood of 25 January 1981 is known as the most serious disaster in the history of South Africa.  On Friday, Saturday  and Sunday the 25th rain fell continuously in and around Laingsburg, a small town in the Karoo between Cape Town and Beaufort West.  At first the rain was gentle as a result of a low pressure system.  But from Saturday afternoon to Sunday a high pressure system brought heavy thunder showers to the catchment area.  Up to 425 mm rainfall was recorded that week-end, whereas the normal rainfall per annum is only 175 mm.

By 08:00 on the Sunday morning the Buffels River, on whose banks the town is built, was in flood and overflowing into the town.  Simultaneously there was a confluence of two rivers, the Baviaans and the Wilgerhout, flowing from the area to the north known as the Moordenaars Karoo, which caused a high volume of water to accumulate at one time. This water entered the main stream just in front of the railway bridge towards the south of the town causing a natural blockage.  Pressure against the railway bridge is estimated to have been 8000 tons per second. The level of the Buffels River rose dramatically at about 12:00 and by 14:00 the town (CBD) was under water.

Residents of Laingsburg, who were used to seeing the Buffels River in flood from time to time, thought that it would soon subside again, not realizing that this was a devastating flood that would hit the town with masses of water coming from an extensive catchment area.  Moreover, the railway bridge and the road bridge over the N1 caused a huge obstruction as trees, plants, rocks, animals and many other objects blocked the flow of the river.  Within seconds, the town was turned into a dam.  People climbed onto the roofs of their houses or into trees and fled to higher ground wherever possible, but everything happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that many lives were lost.  When the gravel embankments leading to the bridges gave way, the water ran at a tremendous speed carrying everything away.  In the blink of an eye, houses, people, almost the whole town disappeared.

The loss of life in Laingsburg was a hundred and four men, women and children.  A hundred and eighty five houses, a home for the aged, school hostels, four rondawels and twenty-three business premises were destroyed.  Survivors of the flood tell stories of how they were washed down river, some clinging to anything that would float, how they clambered to safety along the banks or found themselves floating in the Floriskraal Dam among heaps of debris, 21 km from town.  The number of bodies that were recovered was 32 and 72 were never found.

The flood water level is recorded by signs at various places in the town today, including the inside wall of the Dutch Reformed Church.  It is remarkable to note how the survivors of this disaster recovered after their terrible shock and how they worked together to restore the town. In this they were helped not only by an indomitable spirit but by their willingness to share and to assist one another.  Many did voluntary work : There were first aid workers, those who cooked meals in a general camp kitchen every day, the town planners, those who offered counsel and many others.  Business owners were generous:  To mention a few, Wimpy handed out food to the survivors and Solomon’s General Dealer opened its doors to all to take what was needed.  The owners of the Laingsburg Hotel provided refreshments to the voluntary workers.

Help streamed in from sympathetic people all over the country and a fund was started to assist the victims.  Official help could only reach Laingsburg on the Monday after the flood since the infrastructure had been washed away.  Government supported the flood victims with temporary housing and later built  new houses, a sport complex and a new school hostel and restored the business centre for a total amount of R10 million.  “Die Burger” and other newspapers started disaster funds which brought in R3 million, the Lions helped to build a home for the aged and the Red Cross gave generous help.


How long did it take for the flood to happen?

According to local residents, there was no indication of a flood that week-end although it rained heavily.  On Sunday the 25th the town was suddenly swept away within six to seven hours, after which the weather cleared.


How long did it take to reconstruct the town?

Reconstruction and planning began immediately and took about eight years.


What services were provided for the recovery of Laingsburg?

Initially the Army, Red Cross, Lions, Salvation Army, DR Church and other relief organizations stepped in to help together with friends and family from neighbouring towns.

The national government’s recovery plan for Laingsburg entailed the replanning of a water supply pipeline, a new sewage system, telephones, electric cables, streets and roads etc. which took two years to complete. A flood line for the next 1000 years was proclaimed below which no houses were allowed to be built.


What was done to commemorate the disaster?

There is a cemetery with a wall plaque bearing the names of some of the victims.

An excellent Flood Museum has been established thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of the residents of the town, in particular Me Francis van Wyk.  Full documentation of the event is available as well as a website – www. infolaingsburg

There is a flood route that takes you through the town and out along the course of the Buffels River as well as an art route created by the students of the Art Dept. of the University of Stellenbosch.



What effect did the flood have on the residents?

Total shock!

The flood has had a lasting effect on the population of Laingsburg.  Many lost their lives and many have lost family and friends.  It has been difficult to overcome the tragedy but Laingsburgers helped themselves by helping one another.


Materially, some people may be better off than before the flood because new development has brought better infrastructure etc. to the town.  The memory of what happened will probably never be erased, as is evident from the reaction of residents whenever the Buffels River comes down in flood.


An eyewitness report:

“My most vivid memory is the way the houses toppled over.  You hear a cracking sound, you see a movement and sometimes the house turns on its foundation so that the front door faces the opposite direction.  The moment the house falls, a column of dust escapes into the air reminding one of an explosion.  Next moment there is another cracking sound, another about-turn, another dust explosion, and another house is gone.”


How were the flood victims compensated?

Those who did not have insurance, received a monetary compensation from government for their loss.

An executive committee was formed in the town to administer the funds received.


What measures have been taken to prevent the repetition of such a flood?

The chances of it happening again are said to be 1 in a 1000.

Disaster management at the municipality sees to it that the water level is regulated when the rivers are full.  The river bed is cleared regularly of unwanted vegetation.

Government, the Province and local municipality have compiled a basic disaster management structure which is available to all towns.

Vrae en antwoorde oor die vloed

• Wat is Laingsburg se geskiedenis en was daar al van te vore so ‘n ramp?
Dit is die eerste groot vloed wat die dorp getref het, en hopelik die laaste een. Om en by die jare 1700 het ‘n klein groupie boere van die Kaap af getrek en kom bly in die gebied wat vandag as Laingsburg bekend staan.
Meer mense het na die gebied getrek in 1880 toe ‘n spoorwegstasie daar gebou is. Die stigting van ‘n dorp is amper gestop deur ‘n bepaling dat ‘n trekpad van 800 tree wyd deur die aanleg voorsiening gemaak moes word. Deur toedoen van mnr. T. Laing,kommisaris van kroongronde, is die pad tot 150 voet wysig. Uit dankbaarheid aan hom is die dorp Laingsburg genoem.
• Wanner het dit al begin reen?
Sedert Vrydag die 23ste. Daardie Vrydagaand se inwoners dat die grond al lankal versadig was.
• Dit het oor ‘n baie groot gebied hard gereen. Hoekom is Laingsburg so erg getref?
Nie net het die Laingsburg gebied die meeste reen gekry nie, maar die dorp in ‘n platkom tussen twee oos-wes heuwelrante. Die vernouing van die natuurlike vallei tussen die heuwels aan die suidelike bergrug aan die stroomaf-kant van die dorp, het ‘nsaampersende invloed gehad.
• As die treinbrug nie daar was nie?
Selfs as die spoorbrug nie bestaan het nie, sou die natuurlike vernouing van die valley voldoende gewees het om ‘n opdammende effek te he. Die brug het die vloed wel vererg.
• Hoeveel water daar en hoe vining het dit beweeg?
Deur die Buffels het daar om en by 8000 matrieke ton water per sekonde deurgeloop. Dit het 6 meter per sekonde beweeg.
• Het die inwoners niks verwag nie?
Baie min het, maar almal het geweet iets groots is aan die gebeur, want teen een uur was daar meer as 40 mense op die brug. Meeste van hulle het hulle lewens verloor.
• Watter ander dorpe is ook geraak?
Ladysmith waar 4 mense omgekom het. Grootbrak, Knysna en selfs Mosselbaai is ook geraak. Montagu is ook erg geraak.
• Hoeveel mense is in die vloed dood?
Altesaam 104 mense is dood, waarvan 32 lyke gekry is en 72 lyke nie gekry is nie. Saam al die dorpe is daar 130 dood.
• As ‘n mens Laingsburg besoek, waar kan jy inligting van die vloed kry?
Daar is nie lank trug ‘n vloedroete geskep en hulle is besig om n ‘n vloed museum te bou. Jy kan ook baie inligting kry by die dorp se biblioteeksoos baie boeke, foto's kyk en daar is n vloed video. Daar is ook ‘n spesiale begraafpllas waar van die vloedslagoffers begrawe is. Die begraafplaas sit egter ‘n bietjie weggesteek in een van die dorp se agterstrate.
• Waar is die meeste mense dood tydens die vloed?
Die 3 plekke waar die grootste groepe mense weggespoel het is:
 Die outehuis waar 28 mense weggesleep is.
 Die Shell garage waar daar 13 mense weggesleep is
 En by die Diko gesin op Nooitgedacht waar 9 mense weggespoel is.

• Is dit waar dat daar maasagrafte was?
Daar was bewerings dat daar lyke in swartsakke in ‘n massagraf gegooi was. Dit was almal glo die liggame van kleurling mense. Om en by 2003 is die saak geondersoek en duisende rande is gemors om diep gate te grawe om na lyke te soek wat daar nie was nie. Daar is net ‘n klomp skaapbene gekry.
• Watter goeie boeke is beskikbaar van die 1981 vloed?
Daar is baie boeke beskikbaar en hierdie is van die bekendste: Karoo ramp, 1981 ramp, Laingsburgvloed, ons het op dakke gesit en buffelspoort.
Hierdie boeke is almal tussen 1981 en 1985 geskryf. In 2002 het Carel van wyk, oud skoolhoof van Hoerskool Laingsburg, nog Laingsburgvloed geskryf. Hierdie boek bring baie meer stories voort van ander gemeenskappe en kyk ook hoe hierdie mense nog vandag voel oor daardie dag. In hierdie boek vertel van Wyk die stories van Danie Conradie, Miemie Brink, Ben Groenewald en Anton Dockel soos in die ou boeke, maar ook stories uit ander gemeenskappe soos die van Boetie Smith, wat vandag ‘n bekende sakeman in die dorp is en ook sy deel doen om toerisme te bevorder bv. Is betrokke by die skool se KarooFees. Ook van Nella Steenberg, Alice Kleinboi ens.
Mnr. Boetie Smith, regte naam Jochenia se: "So elfuur se kant op die Sondag van die vloed het my vrou vir my gese die rivier begin oor sy rante stoot. Ek gaan toe soontoe. Toe ek weer om my begin rondkyk, sien ek die water kom al bo om die seunskoshuis, Koornhof. Ek sien ‘n paar jongmense wat toe vir my se my pa sit op Shell se dak! En die water was toe al teen die afdak. My pa het my later vertel hoe hy agter opgeklim het en dat die water so erg was dat dit die dak gelig het.
• Hoe vergelyk die 1981 vloed met die ander in SA se geskiedenis?
Dit is definitief die grootste vloed ooit in die land met die meeste lewensverlies ook.
• Is dit waar dat daar lyke tot in die Floriskraaldam gespoel het?
Ja, baie lyke le steeds in die dam tot vandag onder tonne sluk. Daar is selfs ‘n paar mense wat tot in die dam gespoel het en dit oorleef het. Daar is selfs stukke van lyke en meubels naby Mosselbaai gekry.
• Is dit waar dat daar ongeruimdhede was by die behuising na die vloed?
Ja, daar is baie klagtes gele dat sekere persone weer huise het of deur geld vergoed is al het hulle geen versekering gehad nie. Dan is daar mense wat alles verloor het en niks gekry het nie. Nog iets wat net na en selfs tydens die vloed gebeur het, daar was inbrake orals in die dorp op plase, huise en winkels en duisende rande se items en voorraad gesteel het.
Die dorp doen alles om toerisme te bevorder en focus veral op die vloed om toeriste te lok.



Downloadable PDF documents

The documents below are all PDF documents containing more info about the Laingsburg Flood. Feel free to download a copy.

Weather Pattern
Sielkundige verslae
Questions and answers
List of flood victims
Flood Background Eng&Afr
Causes of Flood

List of Flood Victims

The identified victims were: (31)

Tobias Alberts                  

Piet Rooi

Marthinus Barnard

Alwina Smith

Susanna Destroo

 Jan Swart

Beatrix du Toit

Susan Taylor

Magdalene Drotskie

Carlo van den Berg

Susanna du Toit

Johannes Victor

Pieter du Toit

Boois Gous

Jeanette Groenewald

Willem Grootboom

Grace Johannes                                               

Hendrik Janse Van Rensburg

Johanna Janse van Rensburg

Jeanette Koen

Martha Koen

Jan Kuhn

Catharina Lane 

William Lane

Helene Le Roux               

Johanette Lingenfelder

Maria Muller

Dirk Nel

Margaret Nel

Jacobus Olivier

Catharina Pietersen                                       

The missing victims were: (72)

Jacobs Adams

Sina Diko                                     

Johanna Alberts

Pieter du Plessis

Moses Alexander

Magdalena erasmus

Johannes Ambros

 Susanna  Erasmus

Phillipus Arends

Lena Gertse

Anita Balie

Alfred Goodman

Helena Barnard

Isak Gouws

Jacomina Beukes

Johanna Haasbroek

Catharina Botes

 George Horne

Hester Botes     

Anna Human

Dirk Claaste

 Daniel Malan Jacobs

Johannes Conradie

Jan Kammies

Francois Wilhelmus Conradie     

Klaas Klein

Babatjie Diko 

Jane Diko

Anna Knight

Edeka Diko   

 John Diko

 Pieter Koen

Ertjie Diko

Lena Diko

 Pieter Koen(jnr)

Hilda Diko

Nomvula Diko

 Barbara Koen

Jan Laban           

Letta Lingenfelder

Johan Lingenfelder

Martha Lottering

Anna Maans

Florida Mathews

Pietro Meintjies              

Maria Nel

Hester Nortier(found in 1985)

Johannes Notrtier

Magrietha Pool                

Johny Pretorius

Johannes Smith               

April Solomons

Jacob Stadler    

Margaret Berg

Susanna Swanepoel      


Elizabeth Theron

Elise Theron

Hester Theron  

Johannes Theron

Apols Tieties

Gerhard van den Berg

Hendrina van den Berg 

Jacob van den Berg

Jacomina van der Vyver               

Johannes van Deventer

Johanna van Wyk

Karel Visagie

Stephen Whittaker

Willem Willemse

Alexander Williams

Bernard Williams


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