Heritage Day Flood at Phillipskop

September 25th 2023 will be a day that is forever etched on the minds of those in Stanford and the surrounding areas. There had been a Level 9 warning the day before for heavy rain and damaging winds but even so, the resulting flooding was beyond what anyone had imagined. Within a few hours of Monday morning, the Klein River rose several metres, flooding numerous homes in Stanford, cutting off access to farms, and bringing down power lines. At the end of 2023, we thought it interesting to summarise the effect on Phillipskop of those floods and the days that followed.

View before flood from Lookout RocksView of flood from Lookout Rocks
Klein River valley below Phillipskop in previous year and on the day of the flood

The winter of 2023 had already been one of our wettest at Phillipskop with over 250mm between June and August. As usual the long weekend over Heritage Day was booked out by guests, but unfortunately the weather was cold and wet even before the storm struck. On Sunday, we warned our guests about the impending storm and one set of guests decided to cut their losses and leave. The wind was strong but not exceptional at Phillipskop and the rain was steady for the first half of the night but we had certainly heard worse. Indeed, by the morning only 76mm of rain had fallen at reception overnight. This was significant but we have received more than that in a 24 hour period before. We were therefore shocked when we looked out of the window at first light to see the height of the Klein River below us reaching unprecedented levels and we knew then that both we and our guests would be cut-off.

Road to Phillipskop during floodRoad to Phillipskop after flood
Access road to Phillipskop at height of flood and several days after

While the rain at our reception had not broken any records, we discovered in time that our neighbours across the mountain had received more than double that – 220mm over the weekend in total. We also know that others not far away had doubled even that; a friend of ours in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley recorded 475mm. Judging by the landslides at the back of Phillipskop, we suspect that 220mm plus would have fallen in the Hidden Valley. This was certainly where the greatest damage to Phillipskop itself occurred. The sodden ground created six large landslides on the steep S-facing shale slopes of the Hidden Valley. They stripped the vegetation from the streambanks leaving ugly denuded scars a hundred metres high. The largest of these brought rocks and rubble down the stream as far as the waterfall, taking out our water inlet at the same time.

Waterfall and stream in spate
Landslide in Hidden Valley
Landslide in Hidden Valley
Landslide in Hidden Valley
Stream stripped of plants by landslide

The biggest impact on Phillipskop happened a couple of kilometres down the road as the Klein River did not just overtop the bridge and flood the fields, but found a new course to one side of it. The new low-level bridge had been completed in March and was a great improvement over the previous one that had frequently got blocked. However, the bridge could not cope with the amount of water and the debris that it brought down from further upstream. With the bridge blocked by fallen trees and reeds ripped from the bank, the water had to find another route to the side. This newly created river course eroded away the bank over the next few days creating a chasm of 30m between the end of our road and the bridge itself (which fortunately did survive the storm).

Klein River bridge day 2
Klein River bridge one day after height of flood
Klein River bridge after flood
Klein River bridge after flood had receded

The other major impact was a few hundred metres downstream, where the Eskom electricity pole that supplied Phillipskop and our neighbour was knocked down and the wires broken. This was in the end to prove our longest problem, as we not only lost power on the day (along with no cellphone communication), but it took Eskom 37 days to restore it as the pole in the river remained inaccessible due to the flooding and marshy ground that then formed.

New course of Klein River around bridge
Five days after the flood, the Klein River had created a new course to one side of the bridge

With access via the main bridge washed out, access in and out of Phillipskop was only possible using the Stanford Hills Road. But at first this too was inaccessible as one of the side streams had washed the culvert away. Fortunately, good neighbours with large machines managed to restore some sort of access within 36 hours so the guests trapped at Phillipskop, Blue Gum, Gledsmuir and White Water could all escape. The Stanford Hills Road was also graded properly soon after and was in a better state than it had been for many years. Even more impressively, despite being a minor road, work on the bridge commenced as soon as the water subsided sufficiently. This was no small task considering the amount of material that had washed away. The height of the cliff that the river created was over 4m and new material had to be sourced, compacted and smoothed to create the new gravel road from the end of the bridge to the Stanford Hills Road. Two months after the storm hit, the road was reopened and our access from the R326 restored.

Klein River bridge after flood
Excavations to rebuild road after flood – compare size of digger to river bank wall
Erosion of bank after flood
Walking beneath the river bank wall where the road joins (fence posts on left hand side) shows that it was about a 5m drop

It is now over 3 months since the storm hit and things have returned to normal at Phillipskop. Some things however have changed. The excessively long time without electricity have prompted us to install gas geysers to supplement our solar hot water, so that we are not reliant on Eskom. We have also converted the pool pump at our natural eco swimming pool to solar, as after 37 days without circulation the water had turned decidedly green in the wrong sense. We will continue to seek new ways to make ourselves less reliant on Eskom in 2024. We are also aware, that while this event might well be considered a once in a 100 year flood, with changes in the climate we cannot take that for granted. The repairs at the bridge were efficiently made but they were not long-term solutions and the material piled up to repair the road will be easily washed again in a similar flood. We are fortunate that the reserve itself escaped serious damage. The more easily erodable slopes are on the shale in the Hidden Valley, away from our main infrastructure. But we know that more events like this could bring disaster and is one reason why we continue to do our little bit in whatever way we can to reduce our impact on the planet.

Klein River valley
Klein River at height of flood on morning of September 25th 2023

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