The following letter was emailed to 11 area high schools and other pertinent school districts in an effort to end the annual ritual of spring drownings in Sequoia National Park and Three Rivers. And as with a lot of issues, sometimes it takes the youth to educate their parents.
May 3, 2017
Re: River Safety
Dear School Educators, Administrators, and Staff:
My name is Sarah Elliott, and for the past 22 years, my husband and I have owned and published The Kaweah Commonwealth, the weekly newspaper in Three Rivers. During that time, I have had to write too many stories and headlines regarding the drowning deaths of young people in the Kaweah River. And if it’s distressing for me, I can’t imagine the agony of the family, friends, and schoolmates who must deal with this loss.
In April, the Kaweah River claimed two lives in two consecutive weekends. The victims were ages 21 and 18. It’s obvious that the message of river danger, especially during the spring snowmelt, is not reaching enough people. Education is key, especially this year since record snowfall during the winter will ensure that local waterways remain swift, cold, and dangerous well into the summer months.
I am reaching out to you, the educators, with a plea to please inform your entire student body of the dangers of the river. And this doesn’t mean swimming only. Just walking or hanging out alongside the river during periods of high water are deadly activities. Both of the recent victims were not swimming; they fell into the water and were swept away so fast that they could not be saved.
The river canyon is narrow and embankments are steep. In addition, the alluring boulders at river’s edge have been water-polished over centuries and are as slippery as walking on ice.
The following are some tips that students, their parents and families, and all who reside in the Central Valley need to know:
•Stay off rocks near the river’s edge.
•On hot days, the lure of the water is tempting. But it is still cold and dangerous.
•Never mix alcohol or drugs, even marijuana, with swimming or water play.
•Never swim if you have had too much sun, alcohol, or strenuous activity.
•Always expect strong currents, undertows, underwater objects, and sharp drop-offs.
•If you fall into rapids, try to turn your body so you are in a sitting position with feet first.
•Maintain constant supervision of all children; young children should wear a flotation device when in the vicinity of any body of water.
•Adults should know how to swim; teach children water safety as soon as possible and teach them to swim beginning at age 3.
•Never enter the water headfirst; a feet-first entry is safer, but never jump into water that is less than 10 feet deep.
•Take a CPR course; a significant number of drownings have been prevented because someone had these skills.
•Never swim if you are too tired, cold, or far from safety.
This time of year, the water is icy-cold so hypothermia (the deadly lowering of body temperature) can occur within minutes, rendering the body unable to swim.
Know how to prevent, recognize, and respond to a river emergency:
•Children in trouble in the water might not yell for help or flail.
•To pull someone from the water, lie on your stomach on the shore, dock, or boat, and reach an object to the struggling person (such as a long stick, T-shirt, rope, or anything else at hand). Do not stand upright or you could be pulled in.
•If in the water with a potential drowning victim, they may try to hold onto you, which could pull you under the water too, so instead grab them from behind with your arm under their chin and across their chest so they are on their back. Then do a modified sidestroke to safety.
Thank you in advance for your time spent on sharing this important and potentially lifesaving topic.
Happy Almost-Summer-Vacation… Let’s keep the kids safe…
Signed / Sarah Barton Elliott
The Kaweah Commonwealth
Three Rivers, Calif.