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First Responders urging caution as Columbia River spills into nearby parks

First Responders urging caution as Columbia River spills into nearby parks

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — Experts are warning the warmer temperatures combined with higher-than-normal water levels along the Columbia could be a dangerous combination in the coming weeks.

Benton County Sheriff's Deputy JP Benitez pointed out a partially submerged bench next to a paved sidewalk alongthe Columbia River.

"That's normally on a walkway, that bench right there," he laughed.

Benitez said this is the highest he's ever seen the river go.

The swollen Columbia River has overflowed its banks into parks and recreation areas all over the Mid-Columbia.

It's covering pathways and seating areas at Columbia Point Marina and Howard Amon Park.

All of this water is coming from recent rain in Central Washington and snow melt from warmer-than-normal temperatures.

The deputy said the extra water is swift, cold and filled with fast-moving debris like floating logs that can really hurt someone.

He urges anyone near the water, especially boaters, to be prepared for the worst and always wear a life jacket.

"It's safe as long as you have a healthy fear and respect for the river," he said. "One thing the Columbia is notorious for is it's hidden current. Because the river looks calm until you get into the water and feel that current pushing you down-stream. It happens all the time."

Deputy Benitez said part of planning for the worst includes knowing where you're going and keeping a fully-charged cell phone on hand so you can tell 911 operators how to get to you if something happens.

He encourages boaters to ask deputies for a quick-check before they head out.

He said it only takes 10 minutes with a professional to make sure you're prepared for the worst.

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