Deadly Panhandle

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Authorities say rip currents caused by severe thunderstorms and strong winds are to blame for two separate drowning deaths along the coast of Florida's Panhandle.

Thirteen-year-old Ashley McConkey of Mount Airy, North Carolina, was dragged about 600 yards into the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City Beach before Coast Guard rescuers pulled her out Wednesday.

The girl was unconscious when taken by helicopter to a nearby hospital.

Forty-five-year-old Michael Galletta of Villa Rica, Georgia, was swimming Wednesday near a hotel on the beach when he disappeared
shortly after sunset. He later died at a nearby hospital.

These were the second and third drownings in five days.

The body of an 18-year-old man was recovered from the gulf on Saturday. The latest deaths brought the Florida Panhandle's beach drowning toll to five for this year, and at least 36 in the past three years.

Most of the deaths, including the last two, have occurred on beaches without regular lifeguard service.