The scheduled routine of driving a bus on a familiar route according to a fixed roster was instantly disrupted for local bus drivers when yet another devastating wildfire broke out over George and adjacent communities two weeks ago. The GO GEORGE bus service was deployed to help evacuate people from threatened areas in and around George and as far as Rheenendal.
At a joint stakeholder briefing with premier Helen Zille on Monday, Gerhard Otto, Manager of the Garden Route District Disaster Management Centre noted that “it is amazing to have an asset such as the GO GEORGE bus service that can be activated speedily in emergency situations like this, as well as last year’s fires in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay”.
Moving hundreds of people to safety
GO GEORGE bus drivers and operational staff were put on standby from Sunday night, 28 October 2018. Over the next seven days, the bus service assisted in evacuating almost 700 people from threatened areas, including Blanco where elderly people and school children were transported to safety, students from the Nelson Mandela University, patients from the Bergville Sub-acute Hospital in Denneoord, Rheenendal, and Jonkersberg near Geelhoutboom.
According to James Robb, GO GEORGE Manager, it was humbling to serve the community alongside such a dedicated emergency response team in partnership with the operating company, George Link, and their committed bus drivers.
“The memories of the June 2017 Knysna fires are still fresh in everyone’s memory, the familiarity of being on standby day and night and saying ‘yes, I’ll go’; without thinking twice … This past experience and the entire operational team’s dedication resulted in a well-oiled exercise – we were able to send buses to communities that needed to be evacuated within minutes of receiving a request,” says Robb.
He lauded the “real heroes” in the frontline of the fire and fighting disaster from the air. “What GO GEORGE contributed is such a drop in the ocean; we drove past men and women tirelessly fighting the fire day and night in suffocating smoke, getting very little sleep over an extended period of time while the fire lines just get longer and wilder. They are the heroes.”