Distressed Patriotic Flag Unisex T-Shirt - Celebrate Comfort and Country $11.29 USD Get it here>>
A beach in Florida is the deadliest one in the United States after several more people died there due to rip currents over the past weekend.
In 2023, Panama City Beach recorded the highest number of fatalities across U.S. beaches, according to data from the National Weather Service, a federal agency. Seven people died at the beach this year, with three occurring this Saturday, officials told local media outlets.
Beaches in Florida have seen the most rip current-related fatalities this year, with 13. Puerto Rico, Texas, New Jersey, California, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina have also reported multiple fatalities in 2023, respectively, according to the agency’s figures.
The three who died at Panama City Beach over the past weekend were tourists caught in rip currents, officials said. Double red flags were posted at the beach in two instances, meaning the beach was closed for swimming, officials told the Panama City News Herald publication.
The three victims were identified as Kimberly Moore, 39, of Lithonia, Georgia; Morytt Burden, 63, of Lithia Springs, Georgia; and Donald Wixon, 68, of Canton, Michigan.
“The conditions at the time were severe, with double red flags indicating extreme water hazards,” a news release issued by the city to the News Herald said. “The Panama City Beach Police Department and Beach Safety implore the public to always heed the double red flag warnings and always be aware of the dangers that can accompany these conditions.
That news release also said that there have been reports of about 70 distressed swimmers over the past 10 days, including 40 incidents on Saturday.
“Double red flag conditions have existed on the beach for the last week,” the release said. “Double red flags mean you are not allowed in the Gulf.”
Officials Issue Warnings
Daryl Paul, safety director for Panama City Beach Fire Rescue, told WJHG-TV that “the safest place to be when you come to the beach is near a lifeguard,” adding, “And I will always pump that out. Swim near a lifeguard.”
Over the weekend, one Florida sheriff expressed alarm about the high number of rip current deaths.
“I’m beyond frustrated at the situation that we have with tragic and unnecessary deaths in the Gulf,” wrote Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford on Facebook. “I have watched while deputies, firefighters and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers. I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on fathers day.”
Ford, whose jurisdiction includes Panama City, said that some beachgoers appear to be resistant to obeying safety warnings around rip currents.
“These same heroes, who have risked it all to save others, have been cursed and given the finger, while trying to warn visitors of the life-threatening dangers,” Ford alleged. “We have used the tools provided by the county commission to fine violators $500 for entering the water on double red flags.”
He also wrote: “We don’t have the resources or time to cite every single person that enters the water but we do our absolute best to use it as a deterrent to entering the water.”
Officials and scientists say rip currents are channelized currents of water that flow away from the shore at beaches, generally forming at breaks in sandbars but also near piers and jetties. Rip currents can be extremely dangerous, moving even the best swimmers away from the shore in a short period of time.
According to National Weather Service data, rip current deaths reached a record high in 2021 when 113 people died. So far, 53 people have died due to rip currents in 2023.
“Think of a rip current like this—it is a natural treadmill traveling away from the beach. Rip currents can travel as fast as 8 feet per second—that’s faster than an Olympic swimmer! A rip current is dangerous because it can sweep even the strongest swimmers out to sea. For that reason, rip currents are life-threatening to anyone entering the surf,” says the National Weather Service.
People who are caught in one shouldn’t swim against the current but should swim at an angle toward the shore or swim parallel to it, or yell for help. It also may be possible to float or tread water until the current moves back to the shore.
“Rip currents are the No. 1 weather-related killer at the beaches along the northern Gulf Coast,” says the Weather Service in an article. “There have been a staggering 195 rip current fatalities since 2002 in the beaches covered by the National Weather Service Offices in Tallahassee, FL and Mobile, AL.”
It added: “That is more than the fatalities of flooding, tornadoes, lightning, and tropical storms-hurricanes COMBINED!!”