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Campaign seeks to repay Canada after floater invasion

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

A GoFundMe campaign that started out as sarcasm has some Americans raising money to repay our neighbors to the north after an unscheduled invasion of Michiganians on Sunday.

Floaters travel down the St. Clair River during Float Down Sunday at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron. Thousands of people gathered for the event and floated down the St. Clair River.

Joe Wiedenbeck’s wife warned him his GoFundMe page raising money for Sarnia would get attention. He made the page anyway.

“I had a spur of the moment bit of sarcasm,” said the 41-year-old Marysville resident, who started the page as a way of joking about the events of the Port Huron Float Down that led to 1,500 Americans becoming stranded across the border.

“I was being dumb about all the people who were complaining about this. And then it just blew up.”

So far, the page has raised more than $2,000 of a $9,000 goal, with 126 people donating before the first day was out. Many of those people weren’t even involved in the Float Down and plenty weren’t even from Michigan.

Canada invaded by 1,500 people on wayward play rafts

On Sunday, more than 1,000 people who participated in the Port Huron Float Down on the St. Clair River drifted too far and ended up stranded across the border with little clothes and mostly no IDs.

Although officials in Sarnia did not demand payment for rescuing and returning the crowd — and then cleaning up the trash and debris that washed ashore after the Float Down — they did estimate the cost to be around $9,000.

But while the campaign he started might have been a joke, it’s not anymore. Weidenbeck says he spoke Wednesday with Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley about how he can deliver the funds if the campaign meets its goal.

Bradley confirmed the conversation and said any funds raised would be used to “demonstrate the relationship between Sarnia and Port Huron.”

The 7.5-mile Port Huron Float Down is an annual event on the river that divides Michigan from Ontario, Canada. But the winds turned it into an international incident Sunday.

Police said it took hours for a bus service, Sarnia Transit, to transport the U.S. citizens back to Michigan.

And while that $9,000 figure may have been floated out there, Carol Launderville, a spokeswoman with the Canadian Coast Guard on the Great Lakes, said the actual cost has not been determined. But it’s certainly higher than that because of the need for several federal and local agencies to get involved, as well as volunteers.

Leading the operations was the Canadian Coast Guard ship Limnos, with a crew of 14, along with several smaller Coast Guard boats that pulled people from the water all day, she said. Marine units from the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, local fire departments and Coast Guard auxiliary member volunteers also were involved in the rescue.

And while Bradley said he didn’t want to downplay the seriousness of the event, he did take a shot at a certain presidential candidate.

“This is a really good trial run,” he said. “If Donald Trump is elected in November, we’re ready — we know exactly what to do to prepare for Americans escaping to Canada.”

A screenshot of the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money to refund Sarnia the cost of rescuing and returning some wayward Americans who  got blown across the river into Canada.