'It’s not normal for us:’ Surf City sees record number of rip current rescues

First responders in Surf City say they’ve pulled more people out of the water in the past two weeks than they did all of last year.
Updated: May. 29, 2020 at 5:53 PM EDT
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SURF CITY, N.C. (WECT) - First responders in Surf City say they’ve pulled more people out of the water in the past two weeks than they did all of last year.

As of Friday afternoon, Surf City Fire Chief Allen Wilson said they made 49 rescues in just the last two weeks. Crews pulled 11 distressed swimmers to shore Thursday afternoon and made three more saves before lunchtime Friday afternoon.

“We had a lot of turbulent waters leading up to the beach season, as well as the Arthur tropical storm coming down and Bertha out there the other day. So those turbulent waters mixed with the change of our ocean floor along the Surf City beaches have created the perfect storm," said Surf City Fire Chief Allen Wilson.

The chief says the sandbar changed over the winter months, dramatically shifting the landscape underwater and making it even easier for rip currents to develop.

A rip current is basically a fast moving channel that funnels water back out to sea. When you have a sandbar with breaks in it, rip currents develop in those troughs. Experts say the channels are narrow though, so people can get out of rip currents by swimming parallel to shore.

“Its not normal for us… its definitely an increase. So far we have had more rescue calls than all of last year. To add to that, we’ve pulled more people out of the water than we had all of last year. Its definitely an increase. Its significant for us. Its taxing on our personnel but we’re gonna get out there and make those saves, bring people in and we’re out there constantly educating people," said Wilson.

Rip currents will pull you out to sea, but they wont drag you under. Most people get into trouble when they panic and exhaust themselves trying to fight their way back to shore.

“Most people do panic and fatigue overcomes them. I do know in one rescue this week that was performed by one of our other chiefs that female came the next day and was very thankful and appreciative and told us she was telling people goodbye in her mind,” said Deputy Fire Chief Tim Hobbs. “This ocean will humble you.”

While the area hasn’t seen any tragedies, there’s been several close calls and many situations made worse by family members or bystanders going in themselves to help struggling swimmers.

For that reason, fire officials ask that if you see someone in trouble to toss an object out for them to float on like a raft, boogie board or even a cooler to keep them afloat until help arrives. If you try to swim out yourself and you get into trouble, you could make the job harder for first responders.

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