Raging rivers caused by record snowmelt claimed lives of at least 21 people across the America's West so far this season, forcing officials to close sections of rivers popular with swimmers, rafters and fishing enthusiasts.
In Utah and Wyoming, some rivers gorged by heavy winter snowfall have overflown their banks, and rivers in Utah are expected to remain dangerously swollen with icy mountain runoff for several more weeks, the Associated Press reports. "The sheer beauty of the rivers is their draw — and represents a big danger to people who decide to beat the heat by swimming or rafting with little awareness of the risks posed by the raging water."
So far this year, there have been at least 11 drownings in California since the snowpack started melting in May. Six people have died in the rugged Tule River south of Yosemite. AP report says some of them drowned, but other suffered injuries suggesting their bodies were beaten to death by the river water slamming them against the riverbed. Another person drowned last month at the San Joaquin River near Fresno. In northern Utah, a 4-year-old girl playing at the side of the Provo River fell from a boulder into the water last month. Her mother and a man who was nearby jumped in to try to save the girl. All three drowned, illustrating how quickly one tragedy can multiply.
"The force of that water pounds people into rocks and sends them over waterfalls," said Eric LaPrice, a U.S. Forest Service district ranger at the Giant Sequoia National Monument in central California.
Officials are doing what they can, erecting signs, warning threatened communities and placing sandbags and flood barriers to protect homes and public infrastructure, but at the end of the day, it is on the people to understand one must never underestimate the power of nature, especially water.
Featured image credit: Yosemite National Park