KHQA in-depth report: Staying Above Water


What looks like peaceful waters on the Mississippi River can easily flow in the wrong direction.

Lee County Emergency Management Director Steve Cirinna was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.

What brings him to the water nowadays is grief.

Cirinna said the problem begins when people on the river take it for granted.

"If you go out west and go into the white water in the Rapids and stuff, that's about the same speed the Mississippi River is traveling," Cirinna explained.

A strong current plus a person accidentally falling into the river could stir up a moment of despair.

"If there's nobody out there to help you, you're on your own," Cirinna mentioned.

Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber knows what it's like to search for missing boaters.

He and fellow deputies were out looking for Bill White Sr. and Ron Wagner who went missing in early January.

Both bodies were later recovered.

"Mr. White's wife worked here until she retired recently, so he's like family to us," Weber explained.

Weber pointed out he felt helpless on the search.

The department had to call other agencies who had boats to help - situation Weber wants to change.

"It's not enough for me,” Weber said. “We're going to do a little bit better than that".

He's now in the process of assembling a water search and rescue team for the sheriff's office.

One similar to the Keokuk Volunteer Emergency Corps.

They’re a group who responds to missing boater search and rescue calls on the river.

Group member Charles Biddenstadt mentioned recovering a body can be difficult.

A tactic they use is called a drag bar; a long bar with tremble hooks attached.

"Hopefully we can snag onto them and bring them up and give closure to the family," Biddenstadt pointed out.

He said this rescue process can be cut in half if people wear a life-saving item, a life jacket.

"If you don't have that life jacket on you're going to end up at the bottom of the river and we can be looking for you for days," Biddenstadt said.

All three Lee County agencies are doing all they can to keep river deaths from becoming a routine.

A step which is all based upon faith.

"Hope for the best and plan for the worst," Weber explained.
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