Authorities issue warnings after 7 rip current deaths in North Carolina

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wrightsville Beach Ocean and Fire held a demonstration Thursday afternoon to discuss their response for those caught in a rip current, as summer traffic continues to pick up.

"We typically see about 1-2 rescues a day. We tend to see roughly 300 rescues a year," said Lieutenant John Scull.

Last year, Scull said that number nearly doubled, due in part to the lead up to Hurricane Florence.

Across the United States, there have been 28 rip current deaths so far this year; seven of those have been in North Carolina.

"Yes we have lifeguards, yes we have safety protocols in place, and yes we train hard. But at the same time - we have 18, 19 highly trained individuals, but on a holiday weekend, we're talking 10,000 people - that's a lot to deal with," said Scull.

Scull said they are particularly cognizant of unattended children in the water. Debra Smith, who moved from Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach three years ago, takes precautions when she visits the beach with her granddaughter.

"If we go out further, we're going to have the floaties, skim boards, the little floats like that. Most of the time, we just wade through," Smith said.

Elena Rodriguez visited Wrightsville Beach with her husband and stressed the importance of being aware of her surroundings while in the water.

"Always conscious of where's my umbrella, where's my location on the beach, and always checking in on, 'Am I too far, have I gone too much one way or another? Has the current taken me?'" explained Rodriguez.

If you do find yourself caught - don't fight it.

Instead, try to swim parallel to the shore until you're out. If you're not a strong swimmer - remain calm, tread water, and signal for help by waving or yelling for help.

"They're going to try and swim against this, and even the best of Olympic swimmers are going to be unable to swim against the strongest of rip currents. And so what ends up happening is they're not making any headway, they begin to panic, and now they're getting into the fight of their life. And that's where somebody needs to intervene. And the best way to intervene with that is with flotation," Scull said.

Lifeguards encourage people to check flags posted on beaches to learn more about water conditions and added to be familiar with what those flags mean since different beaches use different flags.

To learn more about rip currents, click here.
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