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Lifeguards warn of the threat of rip currents

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Posted at 5:48 PM, Jun 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-05 17:48:51-04

Virginia Beach, Va. - Lifeguards are keeping a close eye on beachgoers this time of year in order to keep them safe from the power of rip currents.

April Roberts remembers how frightened she was when, at 8-years-old, she got caught in a rip current at the Oceanfront and went under.

“You just go under. You really don’t know what’s going to happen next. You don’t know if you’re going to be taken out to sea,” she says.

Rip currents are powerful channels of water that flow away from the shore and can take you with it.

More than 100 drownings occur every year in the United States because of rip currents. A few even at the Oceanfront last year.

That’s why, if you’re at the beach and get caught in one, the first and more important thing to do is not to panic.

Virginia Beach EMS Division Chief Bruce Nedelka says you shouldn’t fight against a rip current.

“Visually, you can see if they swim either way, left or right, within a very few feet, they’re out of the current,” he says.

Even when the forecast calls for a low risk of rip currents, experts say you shouldn’t let your guard down.

“We call them flash rips. They can pop up at any time. It doesn’t have to be a day where there’s big surf. So anywhere, at any time, a rip current can pop up,” lifeguard Marc Levine says.

That’s why lifeguards say it’s important to swim with a friend and know your surroundings.

“There are drop offs, holes, berms, there’s sandbars and sometimes even without a rip current, they fall into one of these holes and they’re over their heads and they panic and that’s when they get into trouble,” Levine says.

Which can make a good day at the beach turn into a bad one, in an instant.