Disabled mom, kids grateful for help after losing home in blaze

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NOTHING LEFT: Amy Groenewald with her brother Damian du Rand and daughters Isabella, 8, left, and Emily, 9, stand in the rubble of their burnt out house in the Van Stadens gorge
Picture: AMIR CHETTY

A disabled mother of three who relies on welfare grants to support her children and lost her Van Stadens gorge home and virtually all their belongings in devastating wildfires, is receiving close support amid the devastation.

Echoing the outpouring of assistance that has become synonymous with all the destruction of widespread bush fires, the family has been provided with a roof over their heads and provisions, but the horror of it all still lingers on.

Returning to the scene and staring at the burnt-out site where her home once stood, Amy Groenewald, 35, said the memories of that fateful night still play vividly in her mind as she tried to piece her life back together.

The blaze left her family with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Runaway veld fires have gutted large areas of the Garden Route in the past fortnight, claiming lives, destroying homes and leaving hundreds of kilometres of forest and vegetation burnt to the ground.

Groenewald, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she was particularly worried about the effect it had had on her daughters, nine-year-old Emily and eight-year-old Isabella Groenewald, and her son Shayne du Rand, 16. She provides for them with three monthly grants as she is not able to physically work.

“The event keeps playing in my mind – I still see fire whenever I close my eyes, and it was such a traumatic, scary experience to have to go through,” the visibly distraught mother said.

“I’m trying to move on, but the events of that night keep coming back to me.

“I am particularly worried about my daughters – they’re having nightmares – but they are not talking about what happened and that is what scares me the most.”

There was hardly time to do anything as the fire had spread so quickly.

“At around 3.30pm on that [June 7] afternoon, I had already started packing the girls’ school clothes as I saw the fire on the mountains,” Groenewald said.

“It all happened so fast, by the time it hit the gorge, I knew we were in trouble.

“We gathered what we could and drove to the end of the dirt road just to be safe.”

Shayne, who grew up in the area and stayed with family friend Peter Miller, 75, was at a loss for words as he stared at the burnt-out remains of their home.

He said he could still not believe they no longer had a place to call home.

Groenewald, previously from Central in Port Elizabeth, moved to the Van Stadens gorge area in January, staying with Miller.

Delyse Sharkie, who lives just around the corner from where Groenewald’s home once stood, said she did not hesitate to give them a roof over their heads, albeit just temporarily.

“I could not stand by and do nothing. But the most important thing now is for them to find a permanent residence because they need to get their lives back together again,” Sharkie said.

Miller’s sister, Walmer resident Jennifer Swarbrick, has been travelling back and forth to assist them with whatever they need.

“They are such a loving family, and my brother has quite a soft spot for them, so I will continue to assist them in any way I can until they can find their feet again,” Swarbrick said.

Groenewald said her daughters, who attend Ankervas Primary School in Rocklands, had not gone to school since the incident, but would return today.

“I am just trying to get through each day for now,” she added.

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