A family of nine tubing along the Dan River in North Carolina last week was unaware they were approaching a dam.
“We were going and we heard the water a little bit, but we’ve been on the river before. There’s a little dip and you keep going,” 18-year-old Irene Villano told WFMY. “That’s what we thought it was.”
But around nightfall on June 16, the group, who officials say were floating down the river on connected inflatable tubes, plunged over the dam near the Duke Energy power plant in Eden.
It wasn’t until around 3:30 p.m. the next day that a Duke Energy employee noticed something that “led him to believe there may be individuals in peril on the river” and called 911. Rescuers arrived and pulled four survivors, found clinging to the dam, from the river.
Crews have since found the bodies of four other members of the family: 7-year-old Isiah Crawford, 14-year-old Sophie Wilson, 27-year-old Bridish Crawford and 30-year-old Antonio Ramon. Teresa Villino, 35, remains missing.
Now, Duke Energy says it will be installing new, larger warning signs near the dam following the deadly accident.
The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office said there are currently warning signs posted along the river near the dam.
The county’s Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates told The Associated Press that people will often float on rafts or tubes in that area of the river but usually “get out and walk around the dam.”
But the survivors of the accident told WFMY there should be “better signage.”
“We had young kids with us — a 7-year-old. My brother,” Villano told the outlet. “We would never put them in harm’s way like that ever. And if we knew that dam was there, none of us would’ve gone down it ever.”
A spokesperson for Duke Energy told McClatchy News on Tuesday that the new signs will be placed above and below the dam and will be installed “as quickly as possible.”
The signs will “reinforce that the public should not approach the dam,” Duke Energy says.
The Duke Energy dam, which is about 8-feet tall, is a smaller “impoundment dam” rather than a hydroelectric dam with turbines, McClatchy previously reported.
Davis Montgomery, Duke Energy district manager, said in a statement that the company is “saddened by the tragic event” on the Dan River.
“We certainly want to participate in a community discussion on recreation and safety in and around the river,” Montgomery said.