At the Lake: Emergency drill at Zephyr Cove to be staged Wednesday
May 1, 2007
A pop, flash and plume of smoke and people scurrying to get off the paddle-wheeler may sound alarm bells to South Shore residents and visitors watching the action off the shore of Zephyr Cove Resort Wednesday.
Don’t worry. It’s only a drill.
But it’s a big one, involving about 20 Nevada and California emergency management agencies working with Aramark, the concessionaire that operates the tour boat. The agencies will work to simulate a terrorist attack on board involving a bomb and subsequent diesel spill, the latter being a more typical scenario to isolate on the lake.
Similar drills have tested the skills of rescue teams trying to train for a disaster over a lake that can easily consume victims of hypothermia.
“Our goal is to ensure that we are as prepared as possible to protect lives, property and the environment at Lake Tahoe,” said Battalion Chief Mark Novak of the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, the lead agency.
Novak admitted the probability of a terrorist attack may seem remote in Tahoe, and that could just be the very issue in the event the Bay Area is singled out.
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Emergency officials believe if the Northern California metropolitan area was hit, frantic residents would rush east, clogging Highway 50 and overwhelming stretched resources.
The various counties and states have assembled emergency councils and evacuation plans, which now even involve animals. In the event of an emergency like a fire or flood in the basin, team members would wield a binder of contact names and numbers and designate community centers and schools as shelters. No particular evacuation route has been designated as each scenario commands a different response.
And to Novak, anything has proven possible since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“People thought 9/11 was far fetched,” he said. “Sometimes the smaller communities are considered soft targets, and Lake Tahoe is a high profile tourist destination.”
Terrorist threats aside, the U.S. Coast Guard uses the paddle-wheeler drill as a way to hone its boat evacuation skills ” whether there’s an explosion on board, the boat catches on fire or the paddle-wheeler goes adrift into rocks.
With an engine-room fire as a typical scenario, the federal agency may use any side of the boat to clear people off or keep them from jumping to escape a danger perceived as worse than 50-degree water.
“We’re always going to have that,” Coast Guard Officer Jeremy Zimmer said.
A report of a distraught man with a gun in St. Theresa Catholic Church instigated a response from authorities and churned the rumor mill.
The man, whose name was not released, is retired from the California Highway Patrol and sought refuge and a kind ear in the church on Friday afternoon.
Parishioners spotted a gun fastened in a holster on the man’s person and called authorities. The Rev. Michael O’Reilly, who knows the man, said he was speaking to him as law enforcement entered the church with weapons drawn. South Lake Tahoe Police Sgt. Cam Carmichael said the man was taken to Barton Memorial Hospital for evaluation and then Placerville’s mental health facility.
But he was back at church Monday morning, said St. Theresa Catholic School Principal Danette Winslow.
Authorities learned of the armed man at 2:05 p.m., according to Sgt. Jeff Reagan.
The weapon, a .38-caliber special, was not brandished and the man “sighed deeply” when he put his hands on a pew while he followed instructions to surrender, Reagan said.
The private elementary school, which neighbors the church, was under lockdown for roughly 30 minutes.
“It was a big misunderstanding,” Winslow said. “People are talking so much about it it’s out of control. … The good story is everybody was safe, nobody panicked,” she added.
Winslow said some parents went to the school to pull their children from class.
Rumors circulated that the man was holding O’Reilly hostage with the gun pointed at him and that the man also wanted to commit suicide. O’Reilly said the man needed some prayers and “some talking to. That’s what I was doing.”
He also stated he never felt threatened by the man. The gun was in the holster the entire time, O’Reilly said.
“From my vantage I never felt any concern about that being an issue,” O’Reilly said.
A binder stretching over an inch thick highlights a big day today for the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency and City Council, the same body of local government with a full plate to review.
The agency will hear considerations on pages and pages of documents and notes accompanying the revised $410 million convention center project, a redevelopment proposal including two condominium hotels intended to match the swank look and feel of the Marriott-anchored Heavenly Village situated across Highway 50.
On the agenda, the panel may approve the environmental impact report, design review and Highway 50 streetscaping as the City Planning Commission did with much consternation last week.
Much of the revised proposal has brought agreement among Lake Tahoe Development Co. and city staff, but there have been exceptions.
The issue of parking has brought a stern warning from the planning staff headed by Hilary Hodges. At peak times, a parking analysis figured the project area could be more than 900 spaces short for adequate spaces.
“Consider the recommendation carefully because it is a policy decision related to the operations of the convention center,” Hodges wrote in her report. “Local oriented events and concerts would generate a greater demand for parking than regional or national events because many patrons would likely arrive via shuttle from the Reno/Tahoe International Airport and stay at the project hotel or a hotel within walking distance.”
Staff disagreed with allowing the project to continue with the off-site parking secured.
Despite outhitting North Tahoe 8-7, the Whittell softball team made too many defensive mistakes in a 16-6 nonleague loss to the Lakers on Monday in Tahoe City. The Warriors, who beat the Lakers 6-5 on March 23 in Gardnerville, had 10 errors.
“We just committed too many errors to win today,” said WHS coach Rich Barna. “It’s kind of frustrating because we outhit them, but you can’t give up that many errors and expect to win games.”
Abby Kingman led Whittell offensively by going 2 for 3. Megan Esquivel added a double for the Warriors (10-11), who host Dayton in another nonleague game today at 3:30 p.m. at Zephyr Cove Park.
Whittell had its opportunities to win at North Tahoe on Monday, but the Warriors weren’taggressive enough at the plate.
The Warriors lost the nonleague game 14-5 in Tahoe City, stranding 11 baserunners and taking five third strikes.
Sam Harris’ double was one of five hits by the Warriors.
Whittell (4-19-2) will play a twin bill at Truckee on Wednesday and then try to gain the Northern 2A League’s last playoff berth in a doubleheader against Hawthorne on Saturday in Gardnerville.