Three people have died and more than 500 people were pulled from the ocean along beaches in Brevard, Flagler and Volusia counties in 24 hours from Sunday afternoon to 6:30 p.m. on Memorial Day as rough surf and dangerous rip currents have been keeping lifeguards busy all weekend long.
Four were transported to hospitals on Monday morning alone, according to Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue. One of the four transported, a 62-year-old visiting from Lebanon, was pronounced dead just before noon Monday. A Beach Safety spokeswoman said that person was pulled out of the water at Ormond Beach.
Christopher Milhoan, 43, from Tampa, died Sunday.
Later in the day, Jose Lopez, 50, of Kissimmee, drowned in Melbourne Beach.
Lopez, according to police, was reported missing by family members around 5 p.m. Family members said the man went for a walk along the beach, and he was later found in the surf by beachgoers about two blocks from where his family was located.
Red flags have been flying along the coast for much of the weekend, warning of a high rip current risk and keeping lifeguards busy.
"I was scared, because we got to our chests, and I just felt it — I just said 'No, we're turning around,'" said Mary Pearsall, at New Smyrna Beach. "Being in there, it was too scary."
Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue officials said they rescued more than 340 people on Monday. There were 30 jellyfish stings reported, as well.
"The water is treacherous out there today," Volusia County Beach Safety Director Mark Swanson said just after lifeguards rescued a woman at New Smyrna Beach. "We just warn anybody that goes out there and swims today to swim in front of a lifeguard."
Twenty-three people were rescued out of the water Monday in Flagler Beach, officials said. Another 18 people were rescued in Brevard County.
Rip Current Safety Tips
When you're at the beach:
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
- Never swim alone.
- Learn how to swim in the surf. It's not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don't go out.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist along side these structures.
- Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean's surface.
- Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.
If you get caught in a rip current:
- Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Never fight against the current.
- Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
- Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.
If you see someone in trouble, don't become a victim, too:
- Get help from a lifeguard.
- If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 911.
- Throw the rip current victim something that floats--a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.
- Yell instructions on how to escape.
- Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.