Canada was forced to set up a temporary refugee camp this weekend for an estimated 1,500 Americans on inflatable rafts which were blown off course during an annual St. Clair River float down.
High winds and heavy rains turned this year’s Port Huron Float Down into an international incident Sunday afternoon when Canada had to rescue 1,500 American rafters blown across the border.
The rafters were rescued by the Canadian Coast Guard, border service, local and provincial police and employees of a local chemical company, Search and Rescue Superintendent Peter Garapick told CBC.
“There were people in places you’d never think something would float, but there were Americans everywhere. There was no chance for anything floating or people on inner tubes to go anywhere but Canada.”
The Huron Float Down is an unsanctioned annual floating party where thousands of Americans make their way down the St. Clair River every year in rafts, inner tubes and anything else that floats; often while drinking.
There are no vendors or sponsors for the float down, and no one is held responsible for the actions of the rafters, Garapick told CBC.
“The people who take part in this are not mariners. They don’t look at the wind, the weather and the waves. We knew from the get-go, the winds were going to cause a problem. There’s no question they were involuntarily coming to Canada.”
There were no significant injuries to the rafters, but it did take several hours for a bus service to shuttle the would-be boaters back across the border. Canada opened a temporary “refugee camp” for the stranded rafters to keep them warm and dry while they waited.
The rafting event started in Port Huron’s Lighthouse Beach around 1 p.m. Sunday and was scheduled to end at Chrysler Beach in Marysville, but soon after the floating party left American shores the weather turned bad.
The high winds separated the rafters from their groups and drove hundreds of floating partiers off course.
Canadian authorities were swamped with emergency calls of possible drownings, people falling off their rafts and trespassing on private property, Sarnia Staff Sgt Scott Clarke told the Daily Mail.
“It was a bit of a nightmare, but we got through it. There were long waits and long lines. They were cold and wet, but they all made it home.”
Canadian police across the river in Sarnia have long condemned the rafting event as dangerous and unusually hazardous because of the fast moving water and the large number of participants who don’t use life jackets.
To halt the float down, the Canadian Coast Guard announced the waters would be closed to “floaters” a week ago.
Then, when the rafters were blown off course Sunday, some became afraid of what would happen when they entered Canada without official papers and they tried to swim back across the river, Garapick told NBC News.
“We had to pull a lot of people out of the water and say ‘no.'”
Sarnia city workers also spent several hours Monday collecting beer cans, coolers, rafts and other trash from along the Canadian shoreline.
A Port Huron Float Down event Facebook page thanked our Canadian neighbors for the rescue.
“You’ve shown us true kindness and what it means to be amazing neighbors!”
At least one group of rescued rafters has made the crossing to Canada before. Tricia Frost, 26, told the Detroit Free Press she used a kiddie pool last year, couldn’t control it and wound up accidentally floating across the border.
“But it’s fun because you meet a lot of people and seeing the bridge is amazing and it’s great to be with your friends and family.”
[Image via Paul Murray/YouTube]