Nearly a dozen tubers rescued from Little River in Townsend
By Wes Wade | (email@example.com)
Rescuers saved nearly a dozen tubers from the Little River in Townsend Saturday afternoon after the river rose dramatically following heavy rainfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Townsend Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD) responded to the Little River in the area of Carnes Road near Old Highway 73 just before noon after a Townsend Police officer heard someone yelling for help. Townsend Fire Chief Don Stallions said that although there was no rain in Townsend, the Park experienced rainfall which led to rapidly rising water levels in Townsend.
After the first rescue, emergency personnel learned of additional tubers stranded down the river where Carnes Road meets Cedar Creek Road. Members of the TVFD’s swift water rescue team, along with several EMTs, then responded to that area, where they rescued six additional tubers.
“They were in a normally dry area,” Stallions said. “It was at near flood stage.”
While engaged in that rescue, another tuber who had lost their tube came floating by shouting for help. Two more tubers were also discovered up the river stranded on an island, Stallions said. It was at that point that the Blount County Fire Department and Blount Special Operations Response Team was called in for backup.
Stallions said the first rescue only required basic techniques, while the other rescues were more heavily involved. A total of 11 tubers were rescued throughout the operation. Townsend Police visited all of the tubing companies and had them shut down for the rest of the day. Townsend Police Chief Ron Suttles said a couple of the companies had already shut down, but those who had not yet done so were required to shut down for the rest of the day.
Stallions said the rive level rose dramatically in just a short period of time, catching everyone off guard. The water level more than doubled between the morning and afternoon.
“This was a situation where the water came up so fast,” Stallions said. “It came up to an unsafe level pretty quickly without any warning.”
Stallions also said it’s been a long time since they’ve had to recommend that tubing companies cease business for the day. He said he can’t remember ever having to rescue 11 tubers in one day, adding that it has been unseasonably wet for this time of year.
While several of those rescued suffered minor scrapes, bumps and bruises, there were no major injuries. Stallions attributed that to the fact nearly all those who were rescued were wearing life jackets. Swifter water rescuers were able to get life jackets out to those who did not have them. Stallions said the youngest of those rescued was around 8 years old and that the groups consisted of families, both from the area and those visiting from out of town.
There were 12 personnel from the TVFD, as well as about five firefighters from the Blount County Fire Department on scene. Firefighters cleared the scene at around 3 p.m.
Stallions said that Townsend has many reputable tubing companies and that visitors should ask if the companies are monitoring the water levels and also inquire as to the safety of tubing at any given time. He explained that Saturday’s rising water levels did come as a surprise.
“It came up so fast it caught everybody off guard,” Stallions said.