The BC Coroners Service is warning residents to take extreme care near streams and rivers which are currently running much faster and higher than normal.
“People can significantly underestimate the force that can be unleashed by a fast-running river and do not realize how different it is from the quiet stream where they regularly swim, raft or paddle,” said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.
Last Tuesday evening, May 14, Valemount RCMP received a call that a 21 year old woman had fallen into Swift Current Creek (which flows under Highway 16 about four kilometers west of the Mount Robson Visitor’s Center). Robson Valley Search and Rescue was called in, and a witness walking on the river bank located the woman’s body on a rocky sand bar in the middle of Swift Current Creek. Search and Rescue swift-water teams were called in from McBride and Jasper because of the dangerous location.
The young woman’s name has not yet been released, but it has been reported that she was a summer student who had just arrived in the area.
Two other deaths occurred recently in BC when two young men were swept away in Golden Ears Provincial Park.
Emergency Management BC has also recently responded to a series of requests from Provincial Ministries and Local Authorities for assistance with flood response safety training. EMBC has retained the services of Rescue Canada Resource Group to provide online flood and swift-water hazard awareness training, and is making it available to organizations such as BC Ambulance Service, RCMP/Police, and Search and Rescue. EMBC highly recommends that all personnel working within flood affected areas or adjacent to rivers, streams, creeks and/or tributaries complete basic hazard awareness training.
The May report from the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George also has tips for preparing for flooding, and although many of the resources are centered around preparing yourself and your family for things like evacuations, road closures, loss of power or water, they do point out the importance of knowing your risks. If you live near creeks and rivers (as we all do in the Robson and Canoe Valleys) you should be aware of the risks, especially from sudden high water events, which can be extremely unpredictable.
WATER SAFETY TIPS
The warning from the BC Coroners Service notes that if a river is running quickly, about six inches of water can sweep a person downstream, and two feet of water can carry away most vehicles. Although the bank of a fast-running creek may look stable, such banks are often eroded by the water and can collapse with the added weight of persons standing on them. Moving water or standing pools of water also can contain dangerous debris, so no one should try to walk or drive through them.
The BC Coroners Service released its newest report into Accidental Drowning Deaths, covering 2008 through 2012. The report looked at 397 deaths over the five-year period. Of those, 58.7 per cent occurred in the summer months of May through August.
The statistics make clear the danger of mixing alcohol or drugs with water-related activities. Of all deaths recorded, impairment by alcohol or drugs was a factor in 40.2 per cent of the cases.
The full report can be found on the BC Coroners Service website at:http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/coroners/publications/docs/stats-water-related-fatalities.pdf
We spoke with Calder Graham, a rafting guide who is certified by the BC Raft Outfitters Association and who has worked on rivers in the upper Fraser area, to help us come up with some tips for if you ever find yourself unexpectedly in a swift running body of water.
1. Defensive Swimming – Face yourself downstream, and get your toes up out of the water in front of you. The current will move you downstream very quickly, and you will need to see where it is taking you. Use your hands like small paddles to direct yourself away from obstacles and towards a shallow area, or an area of slower moving water. You may be able to use your feet to keep yourself away from small obstacles like rocks, and it will help you with the next point.
2. Avoid Foot entrapment – DO NOT STAND UP! Your foot could easily become entrapped in rocks, roots, or submerged tree debris, and the current can be enough to hold you under water (if it doesn’t break your foot or leg and release you). Keep your toes out of the water and in front of you until the water is shallow enough that your bum or your chest is rubbing on the bottom, which means the water is less than half way up your shin. Then you can stand up and get out of the water.
3. Log Jams (Sweepers and Strainers) – Trees, complete with roots, are a constant feature of BC’s rivers, and they can become entangled into log jams, creating “sweepers” (branches that don’t move that you can become entangled in) and “strainers” (masses of branches and roots that become entangled and will let water through – but not you!). If you are being directed by the current towards a log jam, loose the defensive swimming position. Flip onto your front, and swim hard cross current away from the jam. Don’t try to swim upstream. If you cannot get away from the jam, turn back to face it, and then use your arms to try to launch yourself on top of the jam. Get above the water.
One more fact: Moving water strips heat much faster than still water, so if you were to fall into a frozen lake with a water temperature of approx. 5 degrees you could probably last 20-30minutes without losing consciousness. In moving water you would have closer to 5 minutes without thermal protection.