Masses of Water take Farmers by Surprise at Night - News - Gondwana Collection

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Masses of Water take Farmers by Surprise at Night

Avatar of inke inke - 25. February 2016 - Discover Namibia

After the cloudburst on 24 and 25 February 1960 farm Reussenland was cut off by floods. Source: Claus Schulz

“I was on my way from Ovamboland by plane that day. Flying high over the cloud cover I noticed a massive tower of clouds to the southwest, which rose to a tremendous height above the ceiling. The pilot, experienced in the country’s weather conditions, said that something extraordinary was about to happen with the weather – and how right he was.” The thunderstorm which Hans Stengel and his pilot saw as a mass of clouds made history as the Uhlenhorst floods. The downpour occurred during the night of 24 February 1960. 

In the evening of 24 February 1960 Claus Schulz (22) and his parents are sitting in the garden of farm Reussenland in the Uhlenhorst area, some 160 km southwest of Windhoek. It is hot, the country is parched, not a single drop of rain has fallen yet. After a while the family retires for the night, the parents to the farmhouse, Claus to a little rondavel where his Alsatian keeps him company. Claus wakes up in the middle of the night. Drowsily he tries to make sense of the sound that woke him. Splash, splash, splash... the dog makes strange noises. Claus gets up – and finds himself standing in water up to his ankles. Only now he becomes aware that it is pouring outside. The much longed-for rain has finally arrived! 

The rain causes tremendous damage. At farm Reussenland the main house with its high foundations is spared, but all the outbuildings are flooded – the workshop, the store, the room with animal hides. Claus Schulz is one of the last persons alive to have witnessed the Uhlenhorst floods.  

Another one is Raimar von Hase. He was still a child at the time, growing up on farm Jena, but the Uhlenhorst floods remain an ineffable memory. His father, Hans Jürgen von Hase, recorded his experience of the flood in writing: 

“Yet again the south was dry. All of us farmers were very worried and on 24 February we got together to discuss the drought with the Agricultural Union. When I returned to Jena in the evening, a heavy shower had gone down over the northern part of the farm. As a precaution I had the herd at the Kalkbusch post moved to a different place. During the night the rain started to pour down. I was fast asleep and didn’t notice that the downpour turned into a deluge. At six in the morning my neighbour phoned and asked how many sheep I had lost during the night. On his farm more than 1000 animals had drowned. Looking out the window I realized that the house was surrounded by a huge pool of water - 218 mm of rain had come down at the house. Taking Raimar and a few workers with me, I immediately drove to the Milkau post. There 420 mm of rain had fallen. The shepherd rushed forward to meet us and called out in an alarmed voice, ‘Mister, all my sheep are drowning!’ The herd of 800 sheep was huddled together in a corner and the water was rising. We pulled out the animals which were still alive and were able to save about 300 of them. When we dug through the bones a few months later, we counted 522 skulls. I lost a total of 700 sheep and 20 head of cattle in that thunderstorm.” 

The average annual rainfall in the Uhlenhorst farming district used to be 250 mm. The thunderstorm of 1960, however, did not conform to statistics: on the farm ‘Ja Dennoch’, for example, it started to rain at 23h00 and twelve hours later, at 11h00 on 25 February, an incredible 489 mm had poured down. 

Hans Stengel, who had seen the towering mass of clouds from the plane, worked for the SWA Department of Water Affairs. He commented on the effects of the cloudburst: “A total of some 230 million cubic metres of water poured down, which is 90 percent of the capacity of Hardap Dam near Mariental. If this quantity were to be distributed evenly over the entire area of 95,000 ha [affected by the thunderstorm] the water would stand 200 mm high everywhere.”

The thunderstorm turned the Uhlenhorst area into a lake district for a few weeks. Even today, more than 50 years later, speculations about the flood being caused by human interference with nature are rife. Despairing drought farmers had founded a Rain Club in the Uhlenhorst district in the late fifties. Not everybody joined because some were of the opinion that making rain was up to a higher power. 

The Rain Club tried to induce rain with rockets and planes which injected clouds with silver iodide in order to release moisture from the clouds. According to our historic witness, Claus Schulz, the costly flights to produce rain were not particularly successful. His farm Reussenland once got 10 mm of rain in this manner, he says. And he is certain that no plane took off on 24 February 1960. Nevertheless, rumours circulated for years that one of the farmers might have launched a rain rocket.   

The deluge was a natural disaster which Hilde von Hase of farm Jena described as follows: “The world seemed to disappear under the water before our eyes. The bare ground did not absorb much and the water was dammed up for kilometres by all the pans and dips. Sheep drowned in the masses of water and cows got stuck in the mud and died.”

Beginning of March the Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported that farmers had lost 3000 sheep and 300 head of cattle according to early estimates. Furthermore, enormous damage had been caused to the infrastructure. The SWA Administration granted a financial aid package to the Uhlenhorst farmers to compensate for the losses suffered in the wake of the catastrophe.

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