POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) - Rip currents have caused several deaths at the New Jersey shore this summer, prompting warnings from lifeguards and weather forecasters for swimmers to be aware and keep themselves safe.
Six people died between June and July due to rip currents in New Jersey, including a 24-year-old Slovakian woman in the U.S. to work a summer job on the shore.
Rip currents are to blame for most of the 59 deaths that have occurred in the surf zone along the nation’s beaches so far this year, and scientists are hoping swimmers pay closer attention to the narrow currents that pull them away from the shore. Rip currents have claimed 735 lives in the U.S. since 2002.
There were 40 rip current deaths nationwide by the end of July compared with 58 in all of 2016, data from the National Weather Service shows. Florida leads the nation with 11 so far this year. New Jersey and Texas had six and North Carolina had five.
“What usually happens is a wave can knock them off their feet and start to pull on them,” said Atlantic City Beach patrol Lt. John Ammerman. “They don’t relax and float with it. They generally panic and have trouble.”
The desperation they create was illustrated in a video showing strangers on a Florida beach in July forming an 80-person human chain to help rescue members of a family who had been pulled too far from shore.
Waves, tides and the shape of the ocean floor contribute to rip currents. But jetties, groins and piers create “hot boxes” where swimmers are especially at risk, said Greg Dusek, who studies tides and currents for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The New Jersey shore is dotted with these structures, and it is where six people died between June and July, including Zuzana Oravcova of Slovakia, who went for a swim in Point Pleasant Beach on July 30 but was swept away.
Rip currents often form where sand bars are near the shore, Dusek said, and they are easier to see from an elevated position.