It's All Fun Till Someone Dies!

posted Sep 6, 2012, 3:30 PM by Friends of Hurricane Creek

Rescue workers search for missing kayaker in Hurricane Creek

Thank goodness this turned out better than the caption BUT... it could have turned deadly in a heartbeat, literally.

It began raining on 09/03/12 at about 3 A.M. When I read the rain gauge at Watson's Bend at 07:48 it had rained 7 tenths of an inch. During my patrol that day I was surprised to find that the creek was not very muddy but it had risen about 6 inches.

Watson's Bend 09/03/12 07:45

Late that night it began to rain again. This time it was hard and relentless. By the time I got up and went on patrol at 06:30 AM on the 4th it had already rained about 3 inches since midnight and more still pouring down. The creek had risen to about 6 feet. From the amount of water coming over the waterfall at Watson's Bend it was obvious to me that it was going to get much higher and much more dangerous before the day was over.

While I went out on patrol I saw two "sit on top" kayaks at the put in on 216. I couldn't find the paddlers so I just had to pray that they were experienced enough to stay off until the creek receded a bit. I timed the rise at about 1 inch per minute. As fast as it was rising I knew it would be full of debris so I posted warnings saying not to get in the creek due to the dangerous conditions but knew that many would ignore the warnings and allow the draw of adrynolin to cloud judgement as it sometimes will do to paddlers. I couldn't find the owners so I could not warn them of the dangers of paddling at flood stage. Later as I was compiling notes from the days rain event a neighbor came to my office and said there were helicopters overhead searching for missing kayakers. My heart sank! Could it be the two I saw earlier? It had to be.

I watched as the creek continued to rise to the tune of 1 inch every minute! Even during the height of Tropical Storm Lee it didn't come up that fast. By noon or so it was already at around 12 feet and still rising. It didn't crest until about 4:30 or 5 PM at around 19 feet.  

Hurricane Creek crested at 4:30 or 5 PM around 19 feet.

Kayakers are drawn to this type water but experts will tell you it is dangerous at best to enter a river that is in flash flood stage. Too many unknowns lurk beneath the murky muddy water.

Note the oil drum, center-right of the photo

 By this time it had rained 4.9 inches in 24 hours with .7 inch the day before for a total of 5.6 inches of rain in one event! 

.7 inch rain

4.8 inches rain

I am a swift water rescue trained tech. I knew that without knowledge of the creek it was almost impossible to locate the boaters so I went to get my patrol boat and volunteer to help. When I got to the gated land where I keep my boat there was a strange pickup truck inside the gate and no one around. Only one person has a key besides me and FoHC board members so I knew it had to be my friend, John Rogers. My heart began to race as I realized the impact of this if it went bad. Kenneth Robinson and I assisted the Tuscaloosa Police and Firemen locate the area where we thought he had gone down. He was very close to there when he was found. He and a partner had flipped the boat. His partner got out and went for help but John was stranded. He was somewhat shaken but in fact safe and sound.

Tuscaloosa FD came up the creek in a 21 foot outboard rescue boat loaded with rescue techs to where he was and rescued him. They then went all the way to the 216 bridge in the massive rescue boat. This was a tremendous feat for the driver since the current was raging and bringing whole trees along with it. It was very dangerous for all involved and completely unnecessary. Using better judgement and a complete knowledge of the creek or river you intend to paddle is absolutely vital to survival in the conditions we saw here that day.  As good as it is to tell this story with a happy ending, it could have very easily turned deadly in a New York second!

As your Hurricane Creekkeeper, I realize the need for a safety course for boaters on Hurricane Creek or any fast moving stream for that matter. We used to put on such a course as "Strokers Paddle Club". It is my intention to apply for grants to allow us to do this again as the use of the creek is increasing year to year.  As of now, I carry certifications from American Red Cross as a kayak and canoe instructor. I was certified as a swift water rescue technician at Nantahala Outdoor Rec. Center. My certification was as "Siftwater Rescue Technician Advanced (SRTA)"
I will have to renew my licenses but that should not be a problem. We need this course again to keep all boaters safe and a record of NO bad statistics on Hurricane Creek.

Please stay off of these swollen streams unless you are an expert boater with self rescue skills. If you are unsure... DON'T GO!!!

Feel free to email me at if you are unsure of the conditions. I will be happier to tell you not to go than search for you while family stands on the bank in terror and fear of your death.

From Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen