They have hardly travelled a few kilometres when the radio crackles and the cellphones of all in the truck go haywire. Nolwandle looks at hers and quickly picks up the radio.
“Are you sure?” she shouts into the radio.
“Positive,” is the answer.
“Copy that!” says Nolwandle.
There is a sense of urgency as everyone gets into gear. Nolwandle moves from her seat to sit next to Amahle on the bench.
“You also better change into gear,” she says.
She quickly helps Amahle into waterproof overalls, a life jacket, boots and helmet. The voice coming in from the radio is frantic.
“The storm has landed! The storm has landed!” it says repeatedly.
Nolwandle’s eyes meet Amahle’s as she fastens the straps of the helmet under her chin. The fear Amahle sees in Nolwandle’s eyes is alarming.
“What’s wrong?” asks Amahle.
“The storm will dump up to 165 mm of rain in the next 24 hours – starting right now!”
Amahle is confused, then deeply worried, because 165 mm is her height exactly. She is looking down, making sure the straps on the life jacket are fastened tight when she hears a yell that rings inside the truck.
“Dear God!” It’s the driver of the truck.
A cloud, black and howling up ahead, is coming towards them. They all brace for impact as they drive into it. The crackling of the radio system is drowned completely as they enter the black mass. Out of the windows it is so dark it seems like night. Raindrops sound like coins cascading on the body of the truck. The wind rocks the vehicle from side to side. Amahle can hardly see ahead as night falls in broad daylight and rain pelts down. She wonders how the driver is able to see the road ahead.
Nolwandle taps Amahle on the shoulder, pulling her closer. They are sitting right next to each other but they can hardly hear each other through the din of the rain and wind buffeting the truck.
“We are going to evacuate people in low lying areas near rivers!” Nolwandle screams into Amahle’s ear.
They don’t drive far into the storm before their help is needed. The headlights of the truck shine on a traffic jam at an intersection in a dip. People have abandoned their cars because of rising water. They stand drenched in rain and confusion as their cars fill with water. The Emergency Services truck driver hits the brakes. The crew files out into the storm.
Amahle has covered her camera with plastic – just the glass part of the lens is left exposed to the elements. The howling wind and rain push her small frame back into the truck as she attempts to climb down.
“No! Stay in the truck!” shouts Nolwandle. “It’s not safe! Take photos from the truck.”
It is from this vantage point, high up in the truck, that Nolwandle witnesses the crew at work. They are like a well-oiled machine. They hardly speak, using only hand signals. They survey the situation and quickly hook cars nearly submerged in water to a winch on the truck. The cars are pulled out and up to higher ground.
The crew returns to the truck, opens a compartment under the bench, take out long metal rods with hooks at the ends. In pairs, they prod drains along the road, removing debris that’s preventing water from flowing away, off the road. Amahle keeps snapping away with her camera.
As soon as the water recedes, they file back into the truck with military precision. The coolness that was in everyone’s eyes when introductions were made just a few minutes ago is gone. It has been replaced by caution.
“The city is not ready for this storm,” says one of the guys sitting across from Amahle, wiping his face with a dry towel.
Nolwandle shouts into the radio: “We need to send a warning right now! People must stay indoors! People near rivers must get to higher ground! Get this message to all radio stations! All TV stations! Spread it on social media! Get Sea Rescue and the military on stand-by!”
“Is it that bad, Nolwandle?” says Amahle.
Nolwandle turns to Amahle. “It will only get worse. This – 165 mm of rain in 24 hours – will be a record. We’ve never seen anything like it in Durban.”
Amahle holds on tighter to the bench handrails. Her face is tense and her expression sombre, like everyone else, as they move further into the storm.
Tell us: Have you experienced a massive rain storm? How did you feel?