Rescue crews say river waters are fast and dangerous right now

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - First responders said Wednesday that high water, and also fast waters, are a concern right now as the Tennessee Valley recovers from recent flooding with more rain on the way.

The Tennessee River came up over ramps and up to roads at Ditto Landing, said Chad Tillman, Deputy Director of the Huntsville-Madison County Rescue Squad. There was even a water rescue last weekend.

"We're really concerned about how high the water has gotten," he confessed, "but currently it's coming down. It's been up at a little over 17 feet, but it's running at 11-12 knots."

It's that speed, which Tillman said equates to around 15-16 miles per hour, that concerns him more at this point in the week.

"That water's just moving so fast, that it's almost impossible to use the rescue boats upstream in the water because you're fighting that downstream current," he said, adding that moving water makes rescues so much more difficult. "If you were to fall off a boat, the current could move you so much faster than somebody could catch up with you."

Tillman said the Tennessee Valley Authority has been releasing water through its dams.

Wilson Dam is 137 feet high and spillways are open at this time. This week, the TVA has been averaging a water release of 1.8 million gallons of water per second. That's like filling three Olympic size swimming pools each second!

Tillman said it's helping water recede, but that water is also picking up speed.

"You have an extraordinarily large flow of water," he said. "Normally we're dealing with a 4-5 knot river. The river can be down, but with them letting the water out to maintain the levels they need to we could be looking at 10-15 knot river waters running and you would never know it by looking at the surface because it's such a large surface. Therein lies the danger. It's just very, very fast water."

For anyone who received a kayak for Christmas, or who may be a beginner out on the water, Tillman said wait until there's a better time to take it for a spin.

"Start out the new year and be safe. We really don't like to rescue people on the water," he cautioned. "It puts a lot of people at risk. Just don't take chances."

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