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Children swept up in water are saved

Four children were playing at a birthday party at Riverbend Park in Catawba County this weekend when they decided to climb on rocks in the water.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded. Duke Energy began releasing water from a nearby dam.

Within minutes, the river rose about 4 feet and the quickly moving water swept the children, ages 4 to 7, downstream about 400 to 500 yards.

Adults at the party heard the children screaming. About four or five jumped in the water, said Blair Rayfield, Catawba's parks division manager. They, too, were swept away – but were able to get a hold of the children.

Emergency crews were dispatched, and a call was made to the power company to shut off the water.

The water calmed, and the adults and children made their way to shore, Rayfield said.

Only one minor injury was reported when a child bumped his or her head, said Chief Jason Crooks of the Claremont Rescue Squad, one of the groups that responded to the incident.

Rayfield said Duke Energy periodically releases water from the dam to generate electricity.

Park attendees are told not to swim or wade in the river, and staff also check the water every half hour or so.

He said staff had checked the area near the party about 15 minutes before Saturday's incident but did not see anyone in the water. Staff returned after hearing the alarm sound.

Rayfield said Saturday was only the second time there had been a rescue at the Catawba park, though he said it has happened other times on the Alexander County side of the river.

Traffic on N.C. 16 can sometimes make it difficult to hear the alarm, but officials have been planning to install a second one by year's end.