Fourteen people have been found dead after a congregation of 33 attending a river baptism were caught in sudden flash flooding in South Africa’s Jukskei River on Saturday afternoon.
At least one person had been rescued from the rising stormwaters while several others from a church in Alexandra were able to make it to safety on their own, according to Spokesperson of the City of Johannesburg Emergency Management Services Robert Mulaudzi.
“Total number of bodies recovered today is 12 including 2 discovered yesterday makes it a total of 14 bodies recovered in this drowning incident,” tweeted Mulaudzi, announcing that the search for the remaining constituents would resume on Monday. “Search has been called off for today.”
Local authorities have issued warnings for religious groups hoping to perform baptisms during the holiday season.
“Our residents, especially congregants who normally practice these kinds of rituals, will be tempted to go to these river streams,” said Mulaudzi. “Our message for them is to exercise caution as and when they conduct these rituals.”
The constituents attending Saturday’s ritual were reportedly standing on rocks along the banks of the river when water level began to dramatically rise, according to the BBC.
One constituent, Victor Ncube, told local news outlet eNCA that he was able to pull five people out of the surging waters approximately 100 meters downstream, though others had been carried too far away for him to help them.
“We’ve got some areas that we still need to explore, which might also add into the 14 [bodies] that we have,” said Mulaudzi in an interview with eNCA. “We found out that there are some families who couldn’t locate their family members. We are hoping out of the ones that we might recover, maybe tomorrow, we will be able to help them find closure.”