Proper Equipment and Safety Training Necessary For River Tubers

A mad scramble to safety for those caught on the Elkhorn River Sunday afternoon as a storm blew through the metro area.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, but things could have been much worse.

It's difficult to tell just how many tubers were on the river as the storm hit...we've heard anywhere from 80-100 people.

A lot of them were taking on the challenges of this river in floats made more for swimming pools than potentially dangerous rivers...especially considering the fierce storm that swept through here in moments.

First, high winds...then a heavy downpour.

And nearly 100 people on the Elkhorn River caught in the fast moving storm.

Aaron Watkins' group got off the river safely, taking refuge in a garage.

"We were in there for about an hour," he said.

Jeff Heffernan's group exited near Blondo Street.

"It started raining and sprinkling at first so we stayed on a sand bar for a little bit and when it started hitting real heavy that's when we figured we had to get out of the water," he said.

Waterloo Fire and Rescue immediately called out an air boat.

They helped 61 people get out safely.

Twenty of those were on the river through outfitter "Tubing and Adventures."

"Most of them got off on their own," "Tubing and Adventures" owner Brock Beran said. "They pulled under a bridge and we brought a bus over to pick them up. Another group was up at King Lake. We got them out of the river. We bussed up and got them and four others were picked up in Waterloo's Fire and Rescue boat."

Beran has operated his tubing business for six years on the Elkhorn River.

He says area outfitters do a good job of checking weather conditions and providing safety information and equipment.

"We provide life jackets on every tube, which is state law," he said. "We provide oars to our groups to help steer around. We have an emergency phone number on all of the tubes. I have an air boat that I can use in emergency situations."

Still, the majority of those on the river were private tubers, using equipment that's far from safe under even the best conditions.

"We just need to get the awareness out there of the equipment that's needed and what to do in situations like this," Beran said.

Beran said outfitters use tubes made of materials that can withstand a lot of the debris and limbs tubers may encounter in rivers like the Elkhorn.

But he adds that even those thicker rafts can pop and sink.

He also said keeping records of who was on the river helped assure that everyone in his group was safe and accounted for.

Another suggestion...leave young children at home and do not take them tubing. "Tubing and Adventures" will not allow anyone under age eight to go on the river.

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