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Rip current warnings precede storm's path

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Emergency management and public safety officials are advising extreme caution to anyone heading to the beach this weekend.

As Hurricane Bill passes South Carolina, swells are expected to reach 10 feet. Conditions will be compounded by the high tide that will accompany the new moon, said Sam Hodge, emergency manager for Georgetown County.

Dangerous rip currents are expected to accompany high tides, especially at inlet entrances and with ebbing tides.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone to stay away from the beach itself, but be very careful if you’re going into the water,” said Bob Beebe, a spokesman for Midway Fire and Rescue. “Educate yourself about what rip currents look like, so you can identify them, and know what to do to get yourself out of one.”

Midway won’t be increasing its beach patrol, which normally covers the Litchfield beaches, this weekend, but will be making its usual rounds, warning folks about rip currents and keeping an eye on the water.

The Pawleys Island Police Department will also run its regular patrols. Officer Mike Fanning advises swimmers not to go in the water alone and to “be mindful of the waves, because they’re going to be much larger than normal.”

Rip currents have killed at least eight people in the Carolinas this year, including a Myrtle Beach man who drowned at the south end of Pawleys Island last month. A teen died in May 2007 in the same area, and the following month 10 swimmers were rescued at the south end.

Even in normal conditions, the south end has a reputation as a perilous spot for swimmers, because of strong currents created by rock groins and Pawleys Inlet.

While beach patrols will be out, they don’t have the manpower to cover the entire coastline, Fanning warned. The only beach in Georgetown County that employs lifeguards is Huntington Beach State Park.

Midway has responded to more than 30 calls of swimmers and boaters in distress this year, Beebe said. If you spot someone who appears to be in trouble, call 911 immediately.

“The sooner we’re notified, the sooner we can get there and hopefully avoid a tragedy,” he said.

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