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Date of Issue: July 30, 2008

Dolly delivers rip currents to Island

As Hurricane Dolly socked south Texas last week, the storm sent rip currents to Anna Maria Island’s Gulf coast.

Manatee County lifeguards handled more than 20 rescues in a few days, said Jay Moyles, chief of the division.

“We had 20 this week compared to none last week,” Moyles said. “My staff was very active.”

The county lifeguards responded to situations at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach, Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and several outside the limits of the county beaches.

The rescues, he added, were due to swimmers caught in rip current situations.

“We need to let people know that these situations occur and that they can occur quickly,” Moyles said.

A weather-related event in the Gulf of Mexico, even if a storm is headed for Texas or Mexico, will impact Florida’s coast, Moyles said.

People “are under the idea that it won’t,” he said. “But we are going to get some surf impact - large waves and heavier winds.”

“The Gulf is, in essence, a closed body of water with just two exits,” Moyles said. “Once a storm gets in there, it’s a soup bowl.

Moyles suggested beachgoers look for flags at lifeguard stations that provide clues as to the conditions for swimming.

“They’re like traffic lights,” he said. “A quick glance is going to give you a lot of information.”

Green means go, conditions are good; yellow means caution; red means danger and double red means no swimming, “the beach is closed,” according to Moyles.

A rip current is a large channel of water that flows outward from shore. It is not an undertow.

“What happens is people get caught in one, they try to swim so feverishly back to shore that they become exhausted,” Moyles said.

None of the incidents last week resulted in serious injury, but earlier this year three people drowned off Longboat Key after becoming caught in a rip current.

The county has partnered with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in a nationwide campaign to inform people about safe swimming.

The campaign, Break the Grip of the Rip, promotes some basic rules and recommendations:

  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out.
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim toward shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim toward shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard or call 911. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.