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Bay County officials urge beach safety following weeks of devastating currents

Valerie Crowder

Panama City is experiencing some of the highest drowning rates in years, and local safety officers worry it may get worse.

From places like Destin and Pensacola, to the sandy banks of Panama City; Florida’s Emerald Coast is home to some of the most iconic beaches in the state. But those spots are at risk of being hit with strong surges of water that form in the ocean and pull away from the shoreline. Those are called rip currents.

Daryl Paul runs Panama City’s Beach Safety Division. He says over the years, many visitors have started to ignore warnings about rip currents.

“I don’t understand, this year is just a whole different ball game. Most of our rescues has been people we already warn,” said Paul.

According to Florida’s Dept of Environmental Protection, all public beaches are to fly colored flags to indicate the changes in the ocean’s tide and surf conditions.

The Florida Coastal Management Program worked with the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association, the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) and the International Life Saving Federation to develop a uniform warning flag program for use by Florida’s beachfront communities.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
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FDEP
The Florida Coastal Management Program worked with the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association, the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) and the International Life Saving Federation to develop a uniform warning flag program for use by Florida’s beachfront communities.

Double red flags mean the water conditions are at their worst and beachgoers must stay out of the water, something Panama City Beach has seen for the past two weeks. Despite those posted warnings, Paul says his agency has rescued more than 140 people.

“You’re getting the initial swimmer in distress but you’re also getting the other two dudes on the shoreline that think they know what they’re doing," said Paul. "They go in and save the day, now you’re ending up having to rescue three people."

At least eight people have died because of the raging waters. The National Weather Service has declared it the deadliest beach in the U.S. this year.

With the holidays right around the corner, the local sheriff’s office is stepping up fines and arrests for repeated violators in hopes of getting people to obey the safety rules.

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Adrian Andrews