By Kendall McGee | May 17, 2020 at 8:50 PM EDT – Updated May 18 at 9:21 AM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Cars poured into Pleasure Island this weekend as people across the region flooded in to enjoy the sunshine at the beach.
As the east coast braces for Tropical Storm Arthur, beaches along the coast continue to be at high risk for dangerous rip currents.
First responders at Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue say they performed several water rescues this weekend as the crowds mixed with the rough, choppy water.
Between the crowds and the water conditions, ocean rescue officials made the call Saturday afternoon to bring in a small group of lifeguards a little early.
“We decided to take a precautionary step and put minimum staffing on the beach as of yesterday at lunchtime as we saw the crowds coming in,” said Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue Captain Tony Wallace. “They’re out there keeping people safe.”
While the season for lifeguards doesn’t begin until Memorial Weekend, Wallace says leaders knew they had to protect the strand.
By lunchtime Saturday, Carolina Beach Fire had help from a handful of veteran beach lifeguards patrolling the beach, spotting rip currents and educating people that it’s not safe to go in past waist deep with the rough conditions.
This year, Carolina Beach’s lifeguard tryouts were delayed a few weeks due to the coronavirus, putting the program behind. Wallace says they had to make several adjustments to maintain social distancing as the guards trained, but they were able to expedite the training process and now 40 guards are ready to go when the season begins.
Wallace points out most beach goers have difficulty actually spotting rip currents in the ocean. Rescue workers will generally plant flags to point out rip currents for swimmers, but because conditions can change quickly, its difficult to keep up sometimes.
“A lot of people don’t realize they’re in a rip current until they’re being pulled out too far. It’s a mixed multitude of people… all ages,” said Wallace. “People need to be aware. Be safe and listen to your guard. Swim near a lifeguard, it’s the best advice I could give.”
Rescue officials also remind people on the beach to please keep the emergency lanes clear so they can get to people in jeopardy if need be. Many beach accesses mark the path for emergency vehicles with posted signs, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid setting up within ten feet of the dunes.
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