Good Samaritans Form Human Chain to Rescue Swimmers from Rip Current in Florida
Dozens of people stepped in to form a human chain at Panama City Beach, Florida on Sunday to rescue at least one swimmer trapped in a deadly rip current brought on by tropical storm Barry, authorities say.
Panama City Beach Fire Rescue officials warned the public to “STAY OUT OF THE WATER” on Sunday after receiving “multiple calls for swimmers in distress.” Authorities made nearly 38 water rescues and one person was found dead in the strong rip current over the weekend, Brenda Vincent, a spokesperson for the Panama City Beach Police Department, tells PEOPLE.
“Double Red Flags are flying on Panama City Beach,” fire officials wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “Please avoid getting in the water. The decision to ignore the warnings has impacts far beyond the swimmer that becomes distressed.”
Video footage of the incident showed dozens of people lined up, with some on surfboards, during the rescue. Others stood and watched on the beach as the waves crashed into the shore.
One witness wrote on Twitter that a deputy told him the swimmer “had a belly full of salt water and was going to be sick for a while.”
The Bay County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
Vincent says Sunday’s rescues were made after officials began flying double red flags, which mean the conditions are “too dangerous for swimming.” She says authorities found a 67-year-old man dead in the water less than an hour after he was reported missing to police.
At least four water rescues were made Monday morning, Vincent tells PEOPLE. Reports say the dangerous water conditions are likely a result of Barry, which was a category 1 hurricane at its strongest but weakened into a tropical storm and then a tropical depression.
Barry struck the Louisiana coast, making landfall in Intracoastal City, near New Orleans, on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. Southwestern Louisiana saw about a foot of rainfall total over the weekend, and there was a 7-foot storm surge reported in Amerada Pass, Good Morning America reported.
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Gov. John Bel Edwards headed to coastal Louisiana on Monday to inspect the damage after the storm. He visited Myrtle Grove, where he inspected efforts to repair a flood-damaged road. Edwards said in a news conference that the storm was, thankfully, not as bad as officials initially anticipated but urged residents, “Don’t let your guard down.“ “I want to remind everyone it’s just July,” he told reporters. “Typically we see most activity in August and Sept.”