The waters were receding Wednesday in the Santa Ana River bottom in Riverside, where downpours from the first winter storm of the season caused a surge that left five people and their kittens trapped on a sand bar in desperate need of help.
The swift water rescue was initiated about 4 p.m. Tuesday near the Mission Inn Avenue bridge, as the storm system exited the region, according to the Riverside Fire Department.
Battalion Chief Tony Perna said first responders were notified that five people and two kittens were stranded on a sand bar in the middle of the river bed, where water levels had risen abruptly following the heavy precipitation.
“They were not injured and in no threat at that time,” Perna said. “They had no way to leave the sand bar with the fast-moving and rising water level.”
Three engine crews and several truck companies, including a crew from the Riverside County Fire Department, were sent to the location and began working on a plan to reach the parties and provide a means for them to get to the banks of the river.
“We utilized a ground ladder and high point operations from our truck companies for rescue,” the battalion chief said. “The five victims and two kittens were successfully moved to the street without incident or injury.”
The operation was completed about 4:30 p.m.
Ahead of the storm, city and county officials had attempted to alert transients in camps along the river bottom that they could be imperiled by the storm and to leave. It was unclear how many followed the directive.
The area is replete with homeless encampments.