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80 rescues, 4 deaths, 10 days: Despite warning, NC beachgoers still swimming

Posted June 20

— Rip currents are proving to be deadly this summer, with at least four deaths this month at Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach.

While there are red flags up and down the 12-mile stretch of Emerald Isle, indicating people should stay out of the water, hundreds were seen swimming up and down the coastline Tuesday.

Emerald Isle police have received 47 calls for help and successfully rescued more than 80 people caught in rip currents between June 9 and June 20.

Officials are urging people to understand how to respond if caught in a rip current and not to panic. Tips include treading water and raising your hands until help arrives to conserve energy.

It's important to swim parallel to the shore instead of towards it.

Rip currents can be identified by foamy or turbulent water near a sandbar, and they often occur near piers or jetties.

Last week's rip currents were considered normal summer events, according to David Glenn from the National Weather Service. But the rip currents over the weekend were caused by extra long swells arriving perpendicular to the shore from South Africa, which are more unusual.

"When the wave energy comes perpendicular to the coast that often leads to a greater or enhanced rip current risk," Glenn said. "That's what we've been in since Friday we've had a high threat of rip currents in eastern North Carolina."

The Town of the Emerald Isle held a public meeting Tuesday morning at 10 for residents and visitors to discuss the dangers of rip currents. Around 50 people attended the meeting, including the mayor, a member of the National Weather Service, firefighters, police deputies and the town manager.

"When the wave energy comes perpendicular to the coast that often leads to a greater or enhanced rip current risk," Glenn said. "That's what we've been in since Friday, we've had a high threat of rip currents in eastern North Carolina."

Additional meetings are scheduled for Saturday and Wednesday.

While Emerald Isle only employs five lifeguards for the 12 miles of beach because of funding limitations, 110 flotation devices have been distributed on the beach for people to use if a swimmer is in danger and a lifeguard is not nearby.

Locals and visitors said while they are watching children and family members more closely, many are not letting the incidents ruin their beach plans and are still venturing into the water.

A 21-year-old man died at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville after being caught in a rip current Sunday morning, according to Atlantic Beach officials.

Last weekend, a 17-year-old from Wayne County died after going missing while swimming at Emerald Isle.

A 16-year-old involved in that incident was brought to shore by a surfer and died Monday morning.

A 56-year-old man died Saturday after entering the water to help two teenage girls who were caught in a rip current.

Connie Gauda, who is visiting Emerald Isle from Tennessee, said she has been more cautious when in the water.

"I'm very concerned," she said. "They have the red flags up. It's dangerous. The ocean is nothing to fool with."

Anita Hale was caught in a rip current in Emerald Isle two years ago, which carried her 300 feet away from the shore for 25 minutes.

"My heart rate went up, and I thought well this is the way people die," she said.

"So I just kept waving and treading water and screaming help, somebody call 911."

Captain Bruce Norman of the Emerald Isle Fire Department said officials are highly recommending people do not swim under red flag conditions.

But he realizes there will always be someone who takes the risk and enters the water.

"If you're caught in a rip current, please don't panic," Norman said. "I know that's difficult to understand, but do not expel your energy trying to swim against it."


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  • Henry Cooper Jun 21, 12:35 a.m.
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    That may have some impact but it is more about personal responsibility isn't it? We have all been to the beach and seen the poor decision making for things other than swimming. Drinking to much, taking a two wheel drive on the north end of Carolina beach. Another issue would be how do you handle it when the forecast is off. Weather causes increased currents so you would need a 8 to 15 days of accurate forecast for people coming for a week or two. Hurricane Cindy isn't even 4 days old right now and is going to make a mess.

    As far as canceling. I don't know all the policies but if you allow folks to get all their money back that is just going to drive up rental rates. If they start that policy and expect 15% cancellation then you can guarantee rates will go up 15%. There is a finite amount beach so options are few.

  • Adam Hatch Jun 20, 10:10 p.m.
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    The policies of the rental companies make it impossible to get any money back if you cancel. That's why people pack the beach and go swimming regardless of the danger. Drive around Emerald Isle and look at the license plates: Ohio, West Va. Tennessee, Oklahoma and others.... You want to make a difference? Force rental companies to give back the money if folks can't swim in the ocean in June. It's easy to put up a black flag, wash your hands of the whole mess and then say: well, these people are stupid for coming here and swimming while at the same time coastal towns and property owners roll around in renter's cash.

  • Sara Hauser Jun 20, 7:21 p.m.
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    We are at Pine Knoll Shores where we are currently under a "No Swimming" black flag advisory.

  • Brian Tucker Jun 20, 4:00 p.m.
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    If the flags are all set in place, then there should be no reason these dumbies are getting caught in the rips ... why are the first responders risking there lives when these people are being so stupid.