Lifeguards Make Waters Safe Along Florida Panhandle

By Vic Walter And Krista Kjellman

Nov 3, 2006 9:46am

For the first time in recent years, no rip current drownings occurred off the shores of Walton County, Fla., this summer thanks in large part to another first — lifeguards. From March to October, lifeguards rescued 21 people along the 26 miles of beaches, where hidden rip currents are often strong enough to sweep up swimmers in waist-deep water 10 feet from shore. "Our lifeguards also assisted over 400 people before they ended up in the pull of rip currents, and we made contact with over 50,000 people, many of them tourists, to educate them on the dangers of surf conditions," lifeguard director Gary Wise told ABC News. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Eight Rescues and Counting Video Deadly Currents Stalk the Florida Panhandle Video Watch as Brian Ross Learns How to Survive a Rip Current Click Here to Ask Brian Ross a Question But that wasn’t always the case. Before this past season, since 2000, more than 50 people had drowned in rip currents along the Florida Panhandle.  On one day alone in 2003, eight people, including CNN correspondent Larry LaMotte, died in the deadly currents. That day is now known by residents as Black Sunday. After an ABC News report broadcast on 20/20, featuring LaMotte’s widow and another woman, Barbara Payne of Columbia, Mo., whose children almost drowned in a rip current, the Walton County Commission dropped long-standing resistance to hiring a lifeguard force.  "I rest a little easier at night knowing the Walton County beaches will be safer than they have ever been. You and ABC 20/20 deserve much of the credit for the hundreds of lives that will be saved not only during the 2006 spring break and summer but in the decades to come," Barbara wrote to ABC News this past summer.

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