A year after the duck tragedy, officials remind families to think “safety first” on the water

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BRANSON, Mo. (KY3)- Friday, July 19, 2019 marks one year since a Ride the Ducks boat sank during a strong storm on Table Rock Lake. Of the 31 people on-board, 17 died.

Deputy Chief Mike Moore with the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District recalls the strength of the wind that July evening.

“Just looking out there, seeing these white tops like I’d never seen them before,” Moore said.

The tragedy has prompted many people to think more about weather safety while on the water.

“Sometimes you’ll see a line segment of wind well in advance of that storm,” Chief Ted Martin said.

Chief Martin is with the Branson Fire Department. He also leads Branson’s Emergency Management Division. A year ago, he was watching the storm on the department’s radar system, informing city park officials of the danger.

“That gave them the opportunity, with timing, to evacuate the city pool, get the baseball fields cleared out,” Chief Martin said.

He says Branson has always done its best to keep area businesses updated about weather threats.

“We are a weather-ready community, designated by the National Weather Service. That means that we do a couple things, one, a good means to receive warnings from the National Weather Service, good communications between our city and the Office of Emergency Management itself,” Chief Martin said.

After the duck accident, he says, they continue to be a resource, especially for outdoor attractions.

“To disseminate information so our businesses can make good decisions to evacuate, say, pools at a motel,” Chief Martin said.

However, it’s not only important for businesses to be ready for bad weather, but also families.

“First and foremost, you want to make sure that everyone has a proper [Personal Flotation Device] PFD,” Trooper Ryan Zeller said.

Water Patrol officials say boaters should always have a way to get weather alerts while on the lake.

“You can talk to local marinas,” Trooper Zeller said. “Have your smartphone.”

He says if the storm catches you off guard, be prepared to make what can be a tough call.

“When the rain comes down, you sometimes lose sight of the shoreline. If you’re not familiar with the lake, that can disorient you,” Trooper Zeller said. “Check your surroundings. Is there a dock or a shoreline where you can beach your boat? If you do choose to ride the storm out, head into the waves, just enough to keep that momentum up to keep that bow up, because the bow is designed to break the waves.”

While nothing can change the past, it is important to think “safety first” in the future.

“People have the resources to make good, weather-based decisions,” Chief Martin said.

Chief Martin says when the department works with area businesses on fire response training, they do weather preparedness training, as well. That includes helping businesses form plans to react to severe weather and know where to take people to stay safe.

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