HAMNET Report 30th August 2020

The HAMNET regions in South Africa have been conducting a blackout exercise since yesterday (Saturday) 12h00, and will finish their exercise experiments at 12h00 today (Sunday). The exercise and the scenarios needing to be played out have been organized by representatives of membership in the Northern Cape and the Free State, and we are all grateful to them for their backroom work.

A few small groups in each region have organized themselves into cells, and are operating without any comfortable amenities, like electricity, phones and warm beds. Messages with tasks in them are being sent to each cell, the task has to be completed, and the results then radioed to another division’s station, to be returned to the organizers to check for accuracy. The exercise is not a contest, and there are no winners. The idea is for the groups to test their equipment and their capabilities, in difficult circumstances.

Well, the weather certainly has helped to contribute to the difficult circumstances. As I write this, snow is about to start falling on all high ground in the south-western portions of the country, and rain is falling steadily. So those that don’t catch their death of pneumonia will come back wiser, and wetter!

We look forward to the reports-back.

The Southern States of the US are similarly nursing their injuries as Hurricane Laura finally blew itself out a bit on Friday night and Saturday morning. Louisiana seemed to bear the brunt of the onslaught, with winds in the region of 240 km/h, but the storm directly threatened the United States, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Dominica.

At least 1.3 million people were in the path of the storm on the US mainland, and storm surges were expected to swamp low-lying territory on the coast.

From the ARRL News, we learned that The National Hurricane Centre (NHC)-predicted “unsurvivable storm surges” in the vicinity of 6 metres or greater, driving Gulf waters inland into waterways and lowlands. More than a half-million people in Louisiana and Texas were told to evacuate ahead of the storm, but not everyone did — or was able to leave. One death has been attributed to the storm. Widespread power outages were reported. By Thursday morning, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) had ratcheted its alert level up to 5 — Catastrophic Response Mode — and remained in operation even after the hurricane hit.

“Once Laura has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, we will focus on helping to gather any post-storm reports from the areas that have been hit,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “This includes the relaying of any emergency or priority traffic.”

At mid-week, ARRL South Texas Section Emergency Coordinator Jeffery Walter, KE5FGA, said, “We have begun nightly Zoom meetings with North Texas, South Texas, and ARRL Delta Division leadership. The areas directly in the path of the storm may call for mutual aid support.” He assured that volunteers would be vetted and provided with necessary information and a plan put in place, to define the deployment period.

At 12h00 UTC on Thursday, the NHC was reporting damaging winds and flooding rainfall overspreading inland areas in western and central Louisiana. “Life-threatening storm surge continues along much of the Louisiana coastline,” the report added. The storm was still packing 160 km/h winds. Laura was predicted to move across southwestern Louisiana on Thursday morning, and then continue northward across the state through the afternoon, with the storm’s centre forecast to move over Arkansas on Thursday night, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the Mid-Atlantic States on Saturday.

Voice over Internet Protocol Weather Net (VoIP-WX) Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, was interviewed on The Weather Channel on Thursday morning.

In Louisiana, ARES teams were in standby status for local emergency managers or served agencies, such as the Red Cross, to request activation. Louisiana Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) James Coleman, AI5B, said earlier this week that activations would happen on a parish-by-parish or on a regional basis as support is needed. The Louisiana ARES Emergency Net activated on Wednesday on 3.878 and 7.255 MHz. The Delta Division Emergency Net was on standby on Thursday. Ham Aid emergency communication kits from ARRL Headquarters have been pre-positioned in Louisiana for such situations since last year.

Now WSAR in the Western Cape are sad to report that a hiker died high on a mountain in greater Cape Town, found after an epic search in foul weather. The 58 year old man had set out for a gentle stroll on the lower slopes on the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West on Thursday.

Almost 24 hours later (Friday midday in fact), his body was found high in the mountains. He may have suffered a fatal fall, on a rocky crag high above the Winelands town.

Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) spokesperson Johann Marais ZS1JM, of ORRU and HAMNET, said the nature reserve manager called them for assistance around 17h00 on Thursday after the man’s wife had reported him overdue in returning.

“The man had set out to hike the Sugarbird Route and not returned by 16h00 as he had arranged with his wife. By then rangers had already patrolled the route. WSAR had over 17 operatives in the field on foot and where possible in 4×4’s searching into the small hours of the night.”

The search was coordinated from a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) established in a hi-tech “Incident Command Centre” vehicle provided by the Western Cape Government’s Department of Health. “The search was resumed early on Friday”, Johann continued.

After several hours search on Friday morning on the nature reserve’s network of mountain tracks and narrow paths, the search party found the lifeless man amidst swirling north-westerly winds, clouds and cold winter rain.

Johann Marais said that the man had been fatally injured when he fell someway off the path. The location is understood to be between Porcupine Ridge and the Saddle, or in the deep gorge directly below. Despite successfully locating the man, rescuers had still not been able to retrieve his body by Friday night, owing to poor weather.

WSAR and HAMNET offer their sincere condolences to his wife and family.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.