Port Elizabeth has had the misfortune to suffer from periodic devastating floods. Our ancient forefathers would have attributed this to displeasing the Gods in some way or the other, normally by being sinful. With the benefit of science, this phenomenon can surely be attributed to the fact that Port Elizabeth is at the confluence of two weather systems, periodically introducing extreme weather. As the most devastating floods, as well as many of the worst south-easters, occurred during the three months September to November, it can safely be assumed that weather patterns as opposed to vexatious gods, is the culprit for this flooding.
This blog only covers the significant floods until November 1908.
Main picture: Repairs after the 1908 floods
During the past two centuries, the Gamtoos Valley has experienced at least seven severe floods – 1847, 1867, 1905, 1916, 1932, 1944 and 1961. Of those, the 1905 flood was the most destructive, not from an overall economic perspective but rather due to the fact that my grandfather, Harry William McCleland, and his young bride, Elizabeth Daisy, were made destitute.
While my grandparents’ experiences might have been sadly lost in the mists of time, this account by a survivor, Mrs Gillbee, has survived
Main picture: Gamtoos River in 1903
The major disasters such as the floods of 1867 & 1968 and the great gale of 1902 are outside the remit of this blog. Many of the storms covered in this blog whether wind or rain were of less consequence for most apart, from those personally affected.
Main picture: Thunderstorm viewed from Stanley House Port Elizabeth in 1916
Port Elizabeth periodically experiences floods. Amongst the most devastating was the flood from Tuesday 19th November to Thursday 21st November 1867. During 11 hours on the Wednesday and Thursday, 161.5 millimetres of rain fell bringing the total for the three days to 225.5 millimetres. While only two lives were lost, damage to roads and houses was estimated to be as much as £30,000.
Perhaps its effect was exacerbated by the fact that the roads were not tarred and the flood waters gushed down the natural water courses, formally kloofs or streams, causing mayhem. But the most catastrophic effect was the silting up of the harbour. As a consequence, the recently completed breakwater had to be demolished.
Main picture: Rudolph Street, South End after the floods of November 1867
Unlike adults, at the age of 15, one is never affected by the weather. Even if it was raining, we would go swimming in the sea. Whether it was night or a howling gale force wind was blowing, we would be swimming. No matter how atrocious the weather conditions were or what the time of day was, it was time to swim.
There was only one exception to this rule: the water temperature. If the sea water was freezing cold, we would not swim but that would not prevent us from wading in the water and even “catching” a few waves. Nothing seemed to deter us or maybe we just never noticed what the weather was like.
Main picture: This “river” which runs through Happy Valley is normally no more than a trickle and would normally be classified as a placid stream.