Local News

Riptides Keep Beachgoers on Alert

Posted July 18, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Riptides are powerful ocean currents that can kill as swiftly as they flow. The deadly tides have claimed five lives along North Carolina's coast just this week.

Four people drowned in the surf at Carteret County beaches Monday -- two at Atlantic Beach and two at Emerald Isle. A Maryland woman drowned Tuesday at North Topsail Beach.

All of the victims were pulled out to sea by dangerous rip currents that have plagued the coast in recent days.

Wednesday started with yellow caution flags flying at lifeguard stations on Atlantic Beach. The message: Swim, but be careful of dangerous currents.

By 2 p.m., stronger winds and currents prompted lifeguards to raise red flags, meaning very dangerous conditions were threatening swimmers.

The riptides are keeping lifeguards and rescuers busy along the coast.

"[Monday], we didn't have any drownings, but we pulled 22 people out," lifeguard Barry Mitchell said. "That's really unusual."

More lifeguards are on duty, patrol cruisers are everywhere, and alert beach visitors are keeping their eyes on fellow swimmers.

Eric Franz jumped in to help a couple of children who swam out too far and needed help. He said the key to staying safe in turbulent waters is being aware.

"I have children of my own, and as long as you're aware of it and take special precautions, you should be all right," Franz said. "If you get lax and don't think about it, it's going to get the best of you."

The dangerous currents do not seem to be stopping people from visiting the Crystal Coast. Many visitors do not know about the riptides until they get to the beach.

Rip currents are a kind of violent water tunnel in the ocean. They can happen in underwater breaks in sandbars, or when the current is diverted by a jetty. As the water furiously pushes through a narrow path, a swimmer easily can get swept away.

There are some telltale signs of riptides. Usually, the water will appear murkier or darker than normal, and the waves along the beach are often larger and choppier.

Riptides are not the only problem along the Carteret County coastline. Millions of dead locusts blanket the beaches. No one knows where they came from, but the dead insects are adding another twist to an unusual week at the beach.