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CHP helicopter, firefighters rescue 10 people from Salinas River in Paso Robles

The Paso Robles Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol rescued 10 people from the Salinas River on Thursday when heavy rains turned the sandy channel into a muddy torrent.

Fire Chief Jonathan Stornetta said six of those people were airlifted to safety by a CHP helicopter, while the other four were rescued by Paso Robles and Atascadero firefighters who swam out and brought them to shore.

Two people were located near the Niblick Bridge, one was by the 13th Street Bridge, one was near the Highway 46 bridge, and the rest were just north of Highway 46. The rescue operations began at 8:45 a.m. and concluded about 1:30 p.m.

Two people were transported to Twin Cities Community Hospital to be treated for minor injuries. Firefighters also saved one dog, while another died during the rescue efforts.

The 10 rescues were the most the department has ever performed in one day, Stornetta said.

The department visited riverbed encampments on Monday to warn people about the incoming storms, but the speed of the rising water on Thursday still caught some unprepared.

On Tuesday, the river was trickling downstream at a rate of under 1 cubic foot per second, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. But by Thursday morning, the river was rushing at about 9,000 feet per second.

Anthony Guerriero, a USGS hydrologic technician, was at the 13th Street bridge taking measurements when he and his coworkers noticed a person caught up in the rushing water and called 911.

"A coworker noticed a tent floating down the river," he said. "That tent got quickly caught up in the trees. At first, we thought it was the wind making the tent flap. But as we yelled at the tent, a person stuck his arm out."

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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