BAKERSFIELD (AP) — Rescuers are scrambling this year on central California’s snowmelt-swollen Kern River, which has claimed the lives of 8 people since March, according to a report Wednesday.
Over the long Fourth of July weekend one more person died and two others went missing, according to the Los Angeles Times. And on Saturday crews pulled out the body of a swimmer lost to the raging waters more than a week earlier.
As the winter’s heavy snowfall melts, the river dubbed the “Killer Kern” has become dangerously swift with cold mountain runoff.
“This has been an epic year,” said Sgt. Steve Williams, a search and rescue coordinator for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
The county has relied on 50 trained volunteers to help save swimmers caught in powerful currents and recover the bodies of those who have drowned, the newspaper said.
A volunteer team based on the Lower Kern has already logged more than 3,000 mission hours this year, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Zachary Bittle. The team based on the Upper Kern is nearing that number, volunteer captain Tony Talbott said.
Several years of drought had severely depleted the Kern, a popular whitewater rafting destination known for its dramatic rapids. But this year’s wet winter created a record Sierra Nevada snowpack, and the melt has engorged the waterway.
The Kern is now “a different monster,” Williams said.
Adding to the danger of the icy waters and powerful currents is the fact that visitors have forgotten what the Kern looked like before the drought.
Believing the river to be as calm as it was last summer, they have flocked with inflatable rafts and tubes meant for the placid water of a pool or lake. Most who have gotten into trouble were not wearing proper life vests, officials told the Times.