How to stay safe in swift water areas

TOWNSEND (WATE/WKRN) – Summer is a popular time of year to swim in creeks and rivers, but the swift moving water can be dangerous.

“People would be really surprised that conditions can change right where we are so quickly,” said Roger Murphy with the Blount County Special Operations Response Team. “Today it’s beautiful and peaceful, but we don’t know what’s happening up on the high ground.”

Related: Elderly woman still missing after 40 people trapped at Cummins Falls

Murphy says it is important to know how to keep yourself safe while swimming in these areas.

“Some of the biggest problems people get into is overestimating their ability in these conditions or underestimating the conditions themselves,” said Murphy.

One of the deadliest things a swimmer can do is dig their feet into the ground.

“Foot entrapment in swift water is the number one cause of drowning,” said Murphy. “Just having your feet trapped, so many times they train people in that down river float, you get your feet pointed downstream and get as flat as you can.”

Andy Jones says it is also important to have the correct type of footwear around rocks.

“A non-slip type shoe, something maybe even with a covered toe just because if you’re in rocks it keeps you from getting injured so you don’t trip, hurt your foot or get any other injuries,” said Jones.

Larry Vannozzi with the National Weather Service explained what led to that sudden rise at Cummins Falls State Park, where dozens of people became trapped.

“I think what happens there, especially yesterday, we had some heavy rains but nothing out of the norm, half inch to an inch of rain from thunderstorms that swept through the area, but it looks like somewhat heavy rains fell a little further upstream in Cookeville and washed toward the park and helped cause that problem,” he explained.

It wasn’t even raining over the falls when the water rose so quickly, about three feet in three minutes, but it was pouring upstream on the Blackburn Fork River.

Swimmers also need to constantly check the weather for any rain or storms that could cause flash flooding.

“I would say definitely stay in tune with the latest forecast. Yesterday, we had a high chance of showers and storms. I think just pay attention, cause this time of year you can get very heavy rains, and as we saw yesterday, heavy rains and as we saw yesterday, heavy rains even not quite at your location, can cause some flooding, so definitely stay in tune to what the latest forecast is,” Vannozzi said.

WKRN-TV contributed to this report.

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