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Coast Guard warning people to remain away from quickly melting ice, formations

March 15, 2015

MUSKEGON, Mich., — The Coast Guard is urging people to stay away and off of ice, and to remain at a safe distance from ice formations, especially the ice caves that have formed along Lake Michigan in Muskegon.

The Coast Guard is also urging people to remain clear of shorelines, piers, jetties, rocks, walkways and jogging paths that may have become covered in layers of ice.

The above freezing-temperatures are melting and weakening ice at a dangerous and alarming rate, and will continue to pose safety concerns for anyone venturing onto ice or into ice formations along Lake Michigan, and inland rivers, streams and ponds.

"Mother nature may have created interesting formations this winter," said Senior Chief Petty Officer  Don Miterko, officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Muskegon. "But the warmer temperatures have created an extremely dangerous situation, particularly involving ice caves. People need to use common sense, heed the safety warnings and measures put in place by local agencies earlier this week, and not let their curiosities take a priority over their safety and their lives."

The Coast Guard and local agencies are reminding people who venture out onto melting and weakening ice that they are not only putting their own lives in danger, but the lives of first responders.

Ice is unpredictable and the thickness can vary, even in small areas. Water currents, particularly around narrow spots, bridges, inlets and outlets, are always suspect for thin ice. Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas since these signify thinner ice.

Obstruction such as rocks, logs, vegetation and pilings affect the strength of ice. Ice shifting and expanding can create pressure cracks and ridges around the obstructions.

In addition, ice near the shore of a frozen lake may be unsafe and weaker because of shifting, expansion, and sunlight reflecting off the bottom.

People walking their dogs should always keep them on a leash to prevent the pet from falling or jumping into the water.

The 1-10-1 Principle:  1 minute - 10 minutes - 1 hour

Everyone who enters cold water doesn't drown, but research shows that many drowning incidents may be the result of cold shock response and cold incapacitation.  In cold water drowning situations, if you survive the first minute, the cold will soon rob your muscles of their strength and dexterity. Even strong swimmers can experience swim failure after a few minutes. 

When a cold water drowning situation begins, a person has about one minute to gain control of their breathing and 10 minutes or less of meaningful movement and muscle control to get themselves out of the water.  Severe hypothermia will set in within one hour, but without a life jacket, the victim is likely to drown before that occurs. 

 Cold Water Kills

The Coast Guard and water safety experts say public education and preparedness may help prevent cold water drowning deaths.  In addition to understanding the physiological effects of cold water, people need to be aware that the initial shock of entering the cold water can cause panic and gasping resulting in a person inhaling large mounts of water.

"Ice is very unpredictable and hard to tell if it is safe. Ice slowly decays and may appear thick when actually it is extremely brittle and unsafe," said Miterko. “Cold water kills. The only absolute in ice safety this time of the year is to stay off the ice completely.” 

The public is advised to call 911 to report a person who has fallen through the ice or who is in distress in icy waters.

For more information, contact Ens. Thomas Morrell at 414-747-7152.

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