High S.C. waterways create dangerous conditions for 8 in Rock Hill

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comJuly 6, 2013 

The state Department of Natural Resources warned boaters and outdoor recreationalists Friday morning to avoid the state’s waterways because the heavy rains in the last few days have led to dangerously high water levels and fast currents.

The city of Rock Hill took precautions to protect boaters, putting up signs at public waterway access points like the Riverwalk community and River Park, both on the Catawba River. But not all residents are heeding the warnings.

Rock Hill fire and rescue crews were dispatched on Saturday afternoon when eight people in inner tubes launched from Riverwalk. They were not wearing life jackets. After just a few minutes on the water, two of the four children in the group were “unaccounted for,” according to Rock Hill Fire Battalion Chief Scott Long. A local patrol spotted the group and began to help them out of the water.

By the time crews arrived, all eight were safely on shore. One was looked at on the scene, but did not require further medical attention.

“They’d been warned,” said Long.

Not only had the group had to walk past the warning sign and under the caution tape blocking the ramp leading into the water, but Long and another battalion chief had been checking on the ramp when the group began to prepare to head out.

“When the river’s up and the current’s up like it is, it’s completely unsafe to do any kind of recreational activity,” said Long.

Two witnesses saw the tubing group get into the water at about 12:45 p.m. The witnesses also had been on the water earlier in the day, kayaking on the Catawba from just below the Lake Wylie dam to Riverwalk.

One of them, Fort Mill resident John Brewer, 50, said a kayak ride of that distance would usually take about two hours. On Saturday, they made it in only 30 minutes.

“I mean, it’s got a lot of current,” Brewer said.

The city of Rock Hill closed River Park on Saturday morning because of the high water. Picnic tables and trash cans were submerged and the spot where boaters can usually walk out to when they want to launch kayaks or canoes was covered in eight feet of water, said Morris Haden, who works for the city.

“If it’s inconvenient for the public or unsafe, we close it down,” he said.

As Haden closed up the park, Daniel Alewine, 22, of Rock Hill, and two of his friends pulled their kayaks and tubes out of the water. They had started at Riverwalk. He said Saturday’s water conditions were what made going out on the river fun.

“It’s definitely faster than usual and it’s definitely high,” he said.

He also said it was fun for them, but for inexperienced people, it might be dangerous.

Haden said the city didn’t know when the park and other water access points would be re-opened and that it would all depend on the weather and the conditions of the river.

So far this month, Rock Hill has recieved more than a half inch of rain. In June, the rainfall total was nearly 30 percent higher than average. The National Weather Service is predicting a high possibility of more rain and thunderstorms through the rest of the weekend.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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