Rip currents to blame for Isle of Palms water rescues - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Rip currents to blame for Isle of Palms water rescues

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ISLE OF PALMS, SC - Even before school gets out for the summer months, lifeguards at the Charleston County park on the Isle of Palms have been quite busy.

On Saturday, officials said ten people had to be rescued from the water.  Earlier in the week, six people were pulled from the water.  One man also drowned on the island after being unable to escape from the water.

Rip currents are to blame.

"We just want people to be aware that they can be anywhere on the shore," assistant park manager Cole Thomas said.

Thomas said they are two gullies near the county park.  Those bodies of water carve a path of water that leads from the gully to the main waterway.  When the tide is going out, the water in that path speeds up, which can swiftly take swimmers out to deep water.

"People panic when they start to get pulled out," Thomas said. "What we're trying to teach people to do is turn and swim parallel to the shore so you'll swim out of the rip current and you'll eventually stop feeling it pull."

So far, this beach season and last year's season as well have been two of the busiest, according to Thomas.  The chances for rip currents can change in an instant, she said, creating a sense of unpredictability that makes it even more important to pay attention while swimming.

"Two summers ago, we had zero rescues out here at the Isle of Palms, but the beach wasn't laid out like it is right now, so it's so hard to tell from year-to-year  even month-to-month," she said.

Big storms can also affect the rip currents.  If a big storm comes through, it can was away the gullies, which would then significantly decrease the chances for rip currents.  However, that same storm, could carve out even more gullies, making the situation even more dangerous.

According to Thomas, the county's lifeguards undergo weekly training sessions in addition to all of the requirements they must have before applying.

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