Western Wisconsin (WQOW) - The Chippewa River reached its peak in Eau Claire Thursday. While, for some, the sight of the raging river is nothing new, officials are asking residents to stay off the water for your sake and theirs.
David Whitehouse, the Captain of Dive Rescue for the Eau Claire Police Department told News 18 crews are ready to jump into action should they get a rescue call, but they're really hoping it doesn't come to that.
Whitehouse said the cold water usually keeps people out of the river, even during warm weather, but it is still a blessing and a curse. Cold water means hypothermia can set in much sooner should someone fall in. He said even strong swimmers wouldn't last long in cold water like this.
"It's one of the most dangerous incidents that we can respond to as a fire department," Whitehouse said. "The water, obviously you can't see underneath it, there's obstructions. There's the current to deal with. There's also the new fishing lines that are out there, (they) can hook onto a scuba diver and entangle them, as well as just about anything else somebody decided to throw into the water. So, there's a lot of danger under the water for us."
The Eau Claire Fire Department recently got a fifth rescue boat for its fleet and rescue officials said it's one of a kind. The boat features a dive platform in the front and a ridge underneath to allow crews to navigate shallow areas.
Whitehouse said it's important to take flood warnings seriously, not just on the river, but on land as well. He said if you see a sign that says 'Road Closed' or 'Trail Closed' because of flooding, avoid the area and don't test your luck.
Officer Bridget Coit with the Eau Claire Police Department said they've already received a call of a tuber floating down the river this week. Officers are so worried about the river this weekend, they made a video to try to deter people from floating and posted it to the ECPD Facebook page. In it, Officer Kyle Roder is in front of a green screen 'floating' down the river. The text reads "This is a bad idea. The water is cold. The water is high. The water is fast. Please be safe. Don't float the river right now."
Farther south, the Chippewa River in Durand is still rising. Experts expect it to crest on Friday and start receding over the weekend.
People in the area told News 18 they're used to the annual mess. Travis Hooker, owner of Spot Bar on Main Street, said they can get up to a foot or two of water in their basement when the river floods, but luckily it's never caused any serious damage. Still, Hooker said, it can be a hard lesson for new neighbors to learn.
"Anytime somebody buys a new business on the River Road here, they're definitely in for a rude awakening," Hooker said. "We try to warn them, but sometimes they don't listen."