Flooding forces South Africa's Kruger Park to close gates

Jan 19, 2012 12:00 AM

Severe flooding has forced South Africa's world-famous Kruger National Park to close its gates after dozens of tourists on safari had to be airlifted to safety, an official said.
Heavy rains that have been pounding the northern part of the country for days have swollen Kruger's streams and swept away a number of bridges, forcing park officials to evacuate 60 visitors who were stranded on safari drives, park spokesman William Mabasa said.

"We have closed our gates," Mabasa told.
"There were people who were airlifted from certain areas, day visitors who were on a game drive and had to be taken back to Skukuza (the park's main camp). There were 60 people in the south that were brought to Skukuza because they were cut off." The visitors were evacuated by a park helicopter, he said.

Mabasa said officials were still gauging the damage and that "quite a number of bridges" had been washed away. He said an unknown number of overnight visitors were still in the park.
South Africa's national parks boss David Mabunda told the park was 80 % functional. No deaths or serious injuries were reported, though six foreign tourists -- four Italian and two British -- were washed away in their car and had to be taken to park doctors for treatment, he said.

There were no reports of injuries to animals, most of which had migrated to higher ground days before, he added. Mabunda said the floods would likely only boost interest in the park.
"Whenever an event of this nature occurs, we usually get more visitors," he said.

The region has been pounded by heavy rains since a tropical depression hit neighbouring Mozambique.
Local media reported that some 150 people had to be rescued from the roofs of their homes in nearby towns.

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