Dangerous waters complicate Hiwassee River rescue
West Polk Fire Rescue along with Polk County Office of Emergency Management, Tennessee State Parks, Polk County Sheriff’s Department, Hamilton County STARS, and Polk County American Medical Response ambulance service responded to Hiwassee River around 9:30 pm Sunday night in reference to possibility of four people missing on the Hiwassee River in Reliance near the TVA Appalachia Power Station.
Ground search crews searched the areas surrounding the river until 4:00am Monday morning. The decision was made then to postpone any more search and rescue efforts until 9:00am due to the amount of water that was being generated due to the recent heavy rainfall this weekend and the ground conditions, and heavy fog in the area.
Monday morning crews were gathering drones and personnel to resume the search when a TVA worker was flagged down by two men. Officials determined the men that were missing and they advised TVA worker that the women were still stranded in a thicket of trees on river left and would have to be rescued. Crews immediately responded to the area with two drones, two kayaks, and numerous personnel from several agencies.
Hamilton County STARS launched their drone searching the river noting that the river was treacherous. The drone was also running into the thick overgrowth of trees in the area where the two women were thought to be. At this time Hiwassee/Ocoee State Parks Manager Angelo Giansante decided to take his kayak and start searching river left. He finally made contact after about 10 mins with the victims who had minor injuries and exhaustion.
Giansante at this time loaded both females into his kayak and ferried them across to waiting rescue and EMS crews on the other side. They were then checked by American Medical Response EMS and given a place to sit to dry off and warm up.
Polk County officials would like to remind everyone that the rivers and streams are running a lot higher and more swift than normal due to the recent heavy rainfall experience in the area. The victims were experienced kayakers, but got caught in the middle of a pop-up storm that threw them out of their boat. The value of life jackets was proved in this event.