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Officials warn Utahns to stay away from swollen, fast-moving rivers

OAKLEY, Summit County — After a deadly Memorial Day weekend that saw a small girl and two adults swept away to their deaths, Utah authorities are warning people to stay away from raging, icy rivers dangerously swollen by a snowy winter and wet spring.

The conditions have also triggered flood alerts and led officials to offer sandbags to homeowners in parts of northern Utah where some rivers are expected to reach their highest levels this weekend.

Rivers in northern Utah are moving about 7 to 10 mph, the fastest speeds in five years, said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

McInerney said it's the equivalent of roughly 6,800 pounds of water hitting you every second.

The rivers are swelling with fast-running water because the snow runoff from mountain peaks is around twice its normal amount in northern Utah, he said.

The river water may look tantalizing to people who want to cool down during the hot days of early summer, but it is so cold that it would take less than two minutes for people who jump in to catch hypothermia, McInerney said.

At least six people have drowned in Utah's waterways this year, and three were under age 9, he said. The state averages about nine child drowning deaths each year.

A 4-year-old girl, her mother and a good Samaritan died Monday after the child fell from a rock and was swept away in the Provo River, and several people jumped in to help her.

"They're the most dangerous places in Utah right now," McInerney said. "They just don't see how quick it can take your child or your pet."

Kayla Rydalch, 23, takes her 1-year-old son to throw rocks in a river near Park City almost every day, but she's trying to stay away from it this week and decided Wednesday to take him to a playground.

"One step could sweep him away, so we definitely keep our distance," Rydalch said.

Summit County officials have warned homeowners near the Weber and Provo rivers that flooding is possible, and they've offered sandbags for pickup at a local church.

"This year the river's much higher earlier than we've noticed than in the past," said Jerry Sanders, 73, who lives along the Weber River.

Of the 139 people who drowned in Utah from 2011-15, 42 were under age 17, according to data from the Utah Department of Health.

"We just try to stress to parents how important it is to just stay away from the water right now," said Jenny Johnson, a spokeswoman for the health department. "When the spring runoff is coming, our recommendation is to avoid it, to just not go near it."