Beach Warning: 11 people have died in rip currents along Gulf Coast in less than two weeks

GULF COAST — Florida officials are sounding the alarm after 11 people died in apparent drownings due to dangerous rip currents along the Florida Gulf Coast. The latest victim was former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett, who died Tuesday while swimming in Destin.

Mallett and several others began struggling with the strong current Tuesday afternoon. Officials say Mallett went underwater before being pulled out by lifeguards. He died at a local hospital.

‘Deadly stretch’

Mallett’s death follows two more in neighboring Florida counties and nine others in Panama City Beach. Most of those deaths occurred between June 15 and 24.

Bay County, which is home to Panama City Beach, says 911 dispatchers received nearly 40 calls for water rescues on Sunday alone.

Between 2002 and 2021, rip tides have been responsible for 191 deaths along the Alabama and Florida Panhandle.

“Beyond frustrated”

“I’m beyond frustrated at the situation that we have with tragic and unnecessary deaths in the Gulf,” Bay County, Florida, Sheriff Tommy Ford said in a Facebook post. “I have watched while deputies, firefighters and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers. I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on fathers day.”

Ford says his deputies have been “cursed and given the finger” while trying to warn visitors of the life-threatening dangers in the Gulf.

“We have been diligently working with (officials) to continually improve our response capabilities and messaging to make sure everyone knows the flag conditions. Yet, people are still dying,” Ford posted.

“No match for a rip current”

The sheriff’s office posted a picture showing “the aftermath of a deadly weekend”. The photo shows trenches dredged in the sand under the water as a result of powerful rip currents.

“These are so deep they are easily seen from above,” the post read. “There are quite a few of them. The pictures were taken (Monday) from one of our helicopters. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. We hope so.”

What to know about rip currents

What makes rip currents so dangerous is that they can be strong even when waves are only 2-3 feet. Officials say the weather doesn’t have to be bad or stormy for there to be rip currents.

These insidious waters are caused by onshore winds pushing water to the coastal surf zone.

You can check the local rip tide forecast from the National Weather Service online.

Officials say it’s also important to know Florida’s beach warning flags.

Yellow flags | “Be aware & cautious” – Yellow flags mean some rip current activity is expected. You should be cautious when entering the water, and you shouldn’t swim alone.

Red flags | “Strong & frequent rips” – Red flags mean dangerous rip current activity is expected, and these rip currents will likely be stronger and more frequent. It’s recommended to stay out of the water.

Double red flags | “Water closed” – You could be fined or arrested for entering the water.

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