Rip currents blamed for dozens of deaths this summer

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Rip currents blamed for dozens of deaths this summer: ABC's Gio Benitez reports during Action News at noon on August 14, 2017. (WPVI)

Rip currents have been blamed for an increase in drownings along the east coast this summer and some wonder whether the dangerous currents themselves are on the rise.

They're the videos we seem to be seeing more and more of - strangers jumping into action, pulling struggling beachgoers out of the ocean.

Rip currents are partially to blame for at least 59 deaths this summer from coast to coast, with recent deaths in Louisiana and Alabama. In New Jersey there have been 6 rip current related deaths in just the last two months along. That number is usually one to three per year.

The waters can be so powerful that in July, 80 strangers came together to form a human chain, saving the lives of 10 people swept out by vicious rip currents.

"I've never seen anything like it in my entire life, without them I wouldn't have my family," said Roberta Ursrey.

But now, new questions are arising about what could be causing all those rough waters.

A lifeguard of 50 years on the Jersey Shore told the NY Post that he thinks beach replenishment programs, which refill the dunes to protect the shore from washing into the ocean around hurricane season, are "doing what they're intended to do" but he thinks they can also "create more rip currents."

While NOAA agrees that man-made jetties and piers can create so called "hot boxes" - or areas where swimmers are particularly at risk - they say what really effects the currents are waves, winds, tides and the shape of the ocean floor. The US Army Corps of Engineers, which build these dunes, say that beachfill projects neigher create nor worsen rip currents.

"Rip currents are going to occur with equal frequency in either a natural or completely man made beach," said Dr. Stewart Farrell, Director at Stockton University Coastal Research Center.

Nearly 100 people die in rip currents every year in the United States, with more than 68,000 rip current rescues last year alone.

So how do you get out of one?

Instead of swimming directly towards shore, swim diagonally with the coastline.

And no matter what, you need to look at those beach flags to see if there's a rip current warming. Red flags and yellow flags mean there are high and medium warnings.

Finally, always remember to swim near a lifeguard.

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Related Topics:
u.s. & worldrip currentoceansswimmingdrowning
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