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Trapped tourists rescued in South African park

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
updated 2:12 PM EST, Thu January 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 32 trapped tourists were rescued at the park Thursday
  • Several camps were stranded after torrential rains fell Monday
  • 80 people have already been evacuated from the Kruger National Park, officials say
  • The park, well-known for its safaris, covers more than 7,500 square miles

(CNN) -- As many as 32 tourists who were trapped in South Africa's Kruger National Park after torrential rains and flooding have been rescued, park officials said Thursday.

At least 70 other tourists, including Italians and Britons, and 10 staff members who were trapped in the rising waters had already been evacuated from washed-away cars and flooded camps at the safari destination, the officials said.

David Mabunda, the chief executive of South African National Parks, flew over the park Thursday to witness the extent of the damage. He says there were no serious injuries and no people or animals were killed. The most serious damage was to the infrastructure. "Roads, bridges, culverts, water supply pumps have been washed away. Barring a few tents, there has been limited damage to the tourism facilities," he said.

At least 1,800 people are believed to have been in the park when the rain and flooding began Monday. The park has been declared 80% operational and the repair work is expected to take less than six months to complete.

"The sun is shining now. The main roads are still accessible and that is where most of the highlights are, so people must continue to come to the park," Mabunda told CNN.

This is not the first time the Kruger, as it is popularly known, has been hit by floods. It took 10 months to repair the damage caused by rains in 2000. Mabunda says this time, disaster management was more prepared and so were the park's buildings. "Our tourism facilities stood the test of the floods. The embankments and walls withstood the impact. The only problem we have now is water supply to the camps, which is a problem we are working on. We are also limiting day visitors in order to cope better."

Visitors already in the park were "urged to exercise caution around rivers as crocodiles are likely to be in flat areas," according to a statement on the South African National Parks website.

The park plans to ask the government to help cover some of the repair costs.

Kruger National Park, South Africa's flagship big-game park and a top destination of foreign tourists, was established in 1898. It covers more than 7,500 square miles and boasts hundreds of animal and plant species, according to the National Parks' website.

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