South Africa
This article was added by the user Anna. TheWorldNews is not responsible for the content of the platform.

Remembering the Padavatan 6... the heroes as a wall of death washed away Durban’s Tin Town

The incredible bravery of six men was remembered in Durban today, October 28 as it marks the 104th anniversary of the heroic rescue of 176 people from raging flood waters in 1917 by a group of men who came to be known as the Padavatan 6.

The bravery shown by the men and the community spirit of the residents in “Tin Town” who lived on the banks of the Mngeni River in shacks and the impact of the devastating floods is featured in the book The Legends of the Tide, by authors, Neelan Govender and Viroshen Chetty.

Led by Captain Mariemuthoo Padavatan, the group of seine-netters including Kuppusamy Naidoo, T Veloo, Sabapathy Govender, Gangan Padavatan and Rungasamy Naidoo braved raging floodwaters after Padavatan received news of the unfolding disaster.

According to history reports, Mariemuthoo was checking his boats on Addington beach after the storm and unrelenting rain when some of his workers arrived on a speeding fire truck saying Tin Town was flooding and that the police chief needed boats, ropes and volunteers.

The water level had risen to more than 25 metres above the normal flow of water and the impact of the raging waters had collapsed bridges, with water and debris pouring into Tin Town creating chaos and mayhem as residents tried to escape.

In the book, Chetty describes that fateful day: “The Mngeni River in flood is as large as a python and as fast as a viper. It swallows everything: dogs and chickens, carts and carriages, goat sheds and goats too. Time and again the river slammed against the massive pillars of Connaught and Railway Bridges which spanned the uMngeni Valley just before the Springfield Flats area. Wave after wave, the Mngeni dumped its dinner of shredded trees, corrugated iron sheets and carcasses. A wall of death and debris dammed up the river.”

Mariemuthoo took charge of the situation. A rope was tied to high ground and wound around the captain’s waist and secured to the prow of their boat.

A woman wades through floodwaters in Tin Town in 1917.

Experienced seine-netters, the team knew how to keep the banana boat parallel to the current. While four of the men worked as oarsmen, two men worked to pluck people out of the turbulent, roiling water. They managed to keep the boat stable, despite desperate people trying to climb in or hang on to the boat.

Master shrimper T Veloo recalled it: “I feared we would be swept away to death and disaster at any moment. But it was not to be as there was team spirit, split second teamwork, very able leadership under Mariemuthoo and above all, the determination to save lives.”

As the boat worked its way downriver, laden with survivors, they had to dodge flotsam hurtling towards them, including dead bodies and animals, snakes wrapped around trees and panicked cats and dogs, while navigating dangerous cross-currents.

Veloo said that after five trips to rescue people, “we were completely exhausted. It was said that after the fifth trip, we were staggering like punch drunk men. They told us we had brought 176 people to safety. I do not remember this though. All I remember was the need for a brief rest”.

Although more than 400 people died that day, the number could have been far higher without the heroic efforts of the six courageous men.

A man is led to safety as the rising floodwaters hit Tin Town on the Springfield Flats in 1917.

The Padavatan 6 were posthumously honoured with bravery awards by Lifesaving Africa in October 2019.

At that ceremony, Lifesaving SA project manager Stanford Slabbert said: “It was possibly one of the biggest rescues we will ever hear about. For three days, the river was in full flood and they went out in that flimsy home-made boat.

“What they did was unbelievable and their bravery was unprecedented. If they had capsized, they would have been washed out to sea. It will be hard to find something more daring or dangerous,” said Slabbert.

History sources: Legends of the Tide, The Seine Netters and the Roots of the Durban Fishing Industry.

The Independent on Saturday