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Officials Warn of Potomac River Danger

(Updated at 11:05 a.m.) A combination of hot days and pandemic closures has sent people flocking to the banks of the Potomac River near Chain Bridge.

On both the Virginia and D.C./Maryland sides of the river, people are fishing, picnicking, hanging out and, in some cases, swimming. The last one of those is a major danger, authorities say, as is accidental falls into the river.

First responders from D.C., Arlington and federal agencies have conducted rescue operations along the Potomac several times over the past few months.

In March, a man suffering a medical emergency was airlifted from rocky terrain on the Virginia side, just north of Chain Bridge. In May, a search and rescue operation turned into a recovery operation after a 67-year-old man fell into the river and died. On Tuesday, another search — this time, a man is presumed dead after swimming in the river, going under and not resurfacing.

On Wednesday, D.C. Fire and Rescue posted on social media, urging people to avoid the waters of the Potomac.

“The Potomac River around Chain Bridge is treacherous and deceiving,” the fire department tweeted. “DO NOT swim anywhere in this area. If you are on the shoreline, stay a safe distance from the water. A fall into the river can quickly turn fatal.”

Over this past weekend, National Park Service employees could be seen watching over the crowds from Chain Bridge. On Wednesday, U.S. Coast Guard personnel were spotted talking and showing maps to river-goers near the bridge.

One local resident told ARLnow this morning that even more needs to be done.

“Arlington and D.C. need to start policing along the river banks,” the resident said via email. “My family and I walk down to the river most nights and the trash, fires and illegal cast nets are increasing daily. It’s become a nightly party down on the river banks.”

“I grew up in Arlington and have always walked the banks. I’ve never seen anything like what’s going on now,” the resident continued. “Police need to patrol the area, like they used to. The only time you see police down there is when someone falls in…. It’s dangerous and I don’t want anyone else to die.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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