At least 100 people drown in a flood at Laingsburg

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Laingsburg Aerial View

Sunday, 25 January 1981

On 25 January 1981, Laingsburg (Western Cape) was devastated by a severe flood. The hard rains immersed the whole town in water, only the roofs of the houses were left visible. At least 100 residents lost their lives and the bodies of 72 people were never found. A total of 184 houses were destroyed leaving only 21 houses standing. 425mm of rain fell on 24 and 25 January 1981 causing the Buffalo River that flows North-south through the town to burst its banks. The average rainfall was 175mm. The force of the water was so immense that victims' bodies were found as far away as Mossel Bay. Ten of the survivors were rescued 21km away at the Floriskraal Dam. Outside relief teams only reached Laingsburg 24 hours later as all the bridges leading to the town were blocked.

A fund of R3 million was collected by the "Die Burger" for victims of the flood. The state spent R7 million repairing the infrastructure and constructing 118 houses, a commercial center, a sports complex and a boarding school. There were allegations that victims of the flood had been buried in a mass grave. This was investigated by the Provincial government of the Western Cape. The archeological investigation proved conclusively that there was no evidence to back the allegations.

References:
• Western Cape Government, (2004), Upgrade of Cemetery, from Western Cape Government, 24 March [online], Available at www.westerncape.gov.za [Accessed: 20 January, 2009]
• SAWDIS, The Lainsburg Flood Disaster: January 1981, from S.A Weather and Disaster Information Service, [online], Available at saweatherobserver.blogspot.com [Accessed: 20 December 2013]

Last updated : 20-Dec-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011