Windsor

Smaller-than-usual crowds attend Port Huron Float Down following warnings of COVID-19 spread

This year's Port Huron Float Down attracted fewer participants than in years past, following warnings from officials on both sides of the border.

Strong winds and rainy weather marred an otherwise popular event

The annual event normally sees thousands of people in all manner of vessels — including inflatable inner tubes and even air mattresses — float down the St. Clair River from Port Huron, Mich. to Marysville, Mich. This year's event, however, drew far less participants. (Troy Shantz)

This year's Port Huron Float Down attracted fewer participants than in years past, following warnings from officials on both sides of the border.

The annual event normally sees thousands of people in all manner of vessels — including inflatable inner tubes and even air mattresses — float down the St. Clair River from Port Huron, Mich. to Marysville, Mich.

On Aug. 7, the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards issued a joint statement warning of the potential dangers of the event, including high winds, difficulties in responding to emergency situations and the increased risk of spreading COVID-19 due to large crowds of people gathering in close proximity.

Alan Gillard of Duart, Ont. was one of only a few Canadian participants at this year's event Sunday.

"I can't even get near anybody," he said, when asked if he was concerned over the warnings regarding COVID-19. "This was on the bucket list. Just wanted to get it done before I got too old or before they shut it down."

Winds were very high and blowing against the shoreline, Gillard said, adding the rain started coming down later in the day.

Most of the floaters who attended this year's event were people on the U.S. side of the border, in kayaks, RCMP Const. Ian Smith said.

"That bodes well for them, because they can control where they're going," he said, adding if any unknown individuals showed up on shore, their citizenship would be immediately questioned.

"If they're Canadian, we'll do some initial pre-screening for COVID-19 and send them on their way. If they're American, they're not admissible to Canada right now because of the pandemic ... We will get them on-shore and back to the United States in safe transport."

With files from Kaitie Fraser

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