Abieda Steenkamp and two of her friends were playing on the banks of the canal in Klipfontein Road, close to Calendula in Vygieskraal, when the banks apparently burst as a result of heavy rainfall, and the children fell into the fast-flowing river.
The little girl drifted and disappeared under the water while her two friends managed to get out.
Witnesses say the unidentified man jumped into the water to help the girl, but he too got swept away by the strong current.
Mayco member for Safety and Security JP Smith said Fire and Rescue Services were called to the scene at 1.20pm and divers were deployed at different spots to search the canal outlets.
The girl’s mother Malieka and father Michael Steenkamp arrived at the scene and were seen crying.
Speaking to the Daily Voice at the scene, Michael said the children were playing next to the canal when they all slipped and fell in.
“She was playing with her friends and they like throwing stones into the canal. I heard that before she got swept away, she called for help and the man jumped in trying to save her,” the dad said.
Michael said eyewitnesses told him the water was deep and the man struggled to swim.
As the canal’s water level continued to rise, police divers were deployed at Buckner Road in Hazendal.
A buoy, thrown into the canal to ascertain a possible exit point, emerged at Kudu and Hickory roads.
Members of the Ottery fire crew positioned themselves in Klipfontein Road across from the Mary Harding School, while Epping’s crew was at Kudu and Hickory roads and at Loerie and Cornflower streets, and police divers were at the sewerage plant.
However, Fire and Rescue spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said they had to halt the search: “The search for a child who fell into a canal and the man who tried to rescue her had to be called off this afternoon due to the weather,” he said
A desperate Michael said he did not know what to do and urged authorities to continue.
“I do not want to think of the worst, I want them to search for my daughter and the man. I cannot believe this happened to me, please search for my child,” the father cried.