Panhandle Drownings

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Nearly three weeks after nine drowning deaths on Panhandle beaches, one mayor in the region wants red warning flags to be obvious indicators that conditions are too dangerous for swimming.

Panama City Beach Mayor Lee Sullivan is recommending a "no swimming" illustration be placed on the flags. He wants the flags to include a slashed circle over a swimmer. The city council will vote on the design change after getting cost evaluations.

Many of the region's beaches don't have lifeguards. They rely on warning flags, as well as signs, safety brochures and beach patrols.

Those measures failed earlier this month. Nine people drowned while swimming June 8th and 9th in the Panhandle. Most victims were tourists, and nearly all of them drowned after getting caught in rip currents at beaches without lifeguards.

None of the drownings were in Panama City Beach, but there have been dozens of rescues on red-flag days there. Several rescued swimmers have said they didn't know the meaning of the red flags. Extended Web Coverage

Ocean Swimming Safety

Recognize The Flags

Many beaches use a flag warning system to keep beachgoers informed about daily conditions. Learn the system -- and what each flag means -- before going into the water. These flags are flown from the lifeguard stands along the beachfront. The color code is:

Red Flag
Prohibited to go in the water, stay out. Flown when conditions are determined to be out of the ordinary, such as presence of strong wind, strong current or large surf.

Yellow Flag
Indicates caution should be used when entering any body of water. This flag is flown when undertow and riptide exists.

Blue Flag
Indicates calm seas, use everyday caution.

Know The Currents
Rip currents are narrow, river-like, currents that have been fed by the long shore current and sets of waves. You can easily spot a rip current by its foamy and choppy surface. The water in a rip current can be dirty brown from sand being turned up as it moves rapidly out to sea. Most rip currents in Texas occur near a pier or rock jetty! The rip current digs a trough in the ocean floor. As a result, waves do not usually break where there is a rip. If you are caught in a rip current - do not panic.

Stay Calm! Rip currents are not undertows, you can be pulled away from the shore but not pulled under the water. Call or wave for assistance or swim parallel to shore with the long shore current until you are out of the rip, then swim directly towards shore.

If you see someone caught in a rip or in distress, do not go in after them! Throw something that floats or extend a reaching object.

Never underestimate the power of the ocean.