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Week Focuses on Boating Safety

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RALEIGH — With summer boating activities about to getinto full swing, the week preceding Memorial Day is observed as NationalBoating Safety Week. This season, however, the state's lakes can be moredangerous than usual.

It's one more legacy of Hurricane Fran, the storm that pounded NorthCarolina the night of September 5. Trees were knocked down in a wideswath -- but they not only fell in backyards and along roads, they alsotoppled into lakes and rivers.

That debris, combined with unusually high water levels in the lakesdue to heavy rains, can create waterborne obstacle courses. Accordingto Lt. Randy Thomas, a North Carolina wildlife officer, if a boatrunning at high speed smashes into one of these tree trunks or limbs, thedamage can be severe -- or possibly fatal to the boating party.

Some objects may be floating, while others were drivenvertically into the substrata of the lakebed and are still held tight.

Boaters are advised to take it slowly at first, especially if they arenot familiar with the waterway. And choppy water adds to the difficulty;it makes it harder to discern objects ahead.

A number of trees and branches have been pulled from lakes and rivers;others remain hidden, a constant hazard for people who are just out toenjoy the water and the lazy summer days.

Twenty-one people died last year on the state's waterways, five of themfrom navigating hazardous water.