Lifeguards Rescue More Than 35 Off Siesta Key
SIESTA KEY - To the casual vacationer it looked like a normal day at the beach, with children playing in the warm Gulf waters, bikini-clad women basking in the sun and guys tossing around footballs. But for lifeguard Rick Hinkson and his crew, Wednesday was anything but normal as they stood at their towers, whistles in hand, waiting for the next swimmer to signal for help. The lifeguards rescued more than 35 people caught in rip currents. Those dangerous currents, caused by high tide and Hurricane Dean, are expected to last for at least a couple more days. "We were waiting for the waves because of the hurricane," Hinkson said. "We just were not sure when they would get here or how big they would be."Hinkson said he rescued a few of the same people several times after they were pulled offshore. A swimmer can be drawn more than 100 meters out in about two minutes, he said. The hot weather and start of the school year kept most people away, but it did not stop some vacationers from taking a chance. "You get so tired trying to swim back," said Diane Capulli of Massachusetts. "You have to lock your legs. You can feel it sucking you out. It was scary." Roy Routh, aquatic safety supervisor for Sarasota County, said the conditions at Siesta Public Beach make it ideal for rip currents. The beach has a long shallow bottom and offshore sandbars that create suction in the water. Those features, combined with high waves and wind, can quickly carry a swimmer out to sea. "Rip currents are generated by wind," Routh said. "So the wind was up before, and that's where you get the waves. It's typically what happens." Lido Beach has a similar topography and is also subject to riptides, he said. Although the lifeguards kept busy Wednesday, it was not the most action they have ever seen. In 2005, they rescued a record 175 swimmers after about 3,000 people crowded the beach to play in the waves while Hurricane Wilma was in the Gulf. This round of rescues from Hurricane Dean, once a Category 5 storm that battered parts of Mexico, began Monday. Authorities said a 70-year-old woman found unconscious on the beach Monday may have been caught in a rip current. Maria Bukowski never regained consciousness and died at Sarasota Memorial Hospital on Tuesday. Bukowski's husband, Jozef, said she went out too far and was being moved by the waves. It is unclear how Maria Bukowski made it back to shore. The couple moved from New Jersey to Sarasota seven months ago to be near the beach, Jozef Bukowski said. "The water was not that rough" on Monday, Routh said. "But it does not take that much wind to cause a rip current. Surprisingly, we had a lot of early morning rescues. I'm convinced if she would have been swimming while our lifeguards were on duty they would have seen her." The lifeguards start their 10-hour shift at 10 a.m. Routh recommends swimming while a lifeguard is on duty. By staying calm and using the right techniques -- swimming parallel to shore out of the rip current or letting it carry you out without fighting it -- a person can usually make it back to safety, he said. But some vacationers did not want to take a chance and stayed close to shore Wednesday. Felicity Jennings of England said after a wave flipped her off her feet she decided not to venture out too far. "I'm a strong swimmer," said Jennings, 23. "But it would not be safe for a kid to go out."
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