Twin red flags whipped furiously in the driving rain. The banner corners, frayed by the frantic urgency of the storm, cracked like wet, twisted towels with every wind direction change.
Rangers patrolling the beach on ATVs yelled out warnings to those flirting with rip tides and undertow, cautioning that they would be better off on the beach, than being dragged miles out into open sea. Indignant over having their ocean vacation ruined by draconian and anachronistic rules hampering their holiday enjoyment, they waited for the green-clad enforcers to leave, then jumped back into the churning water. Their rescuers already too far beyond their cries for help to save them when the kraken took hold.
Stumbling from the monster surf with the sodden casualty, the rescuer collapsed to the sand while his comrades expended lifesaving efforts on a hopeless cause.
As ghoulish onlookers crowded around in a snaking semi-circle, macabre commentary of the day’s entertainment made the rounds.
“No umbrellas, no sunglasses.”
“It’s just hell and hallelujah everyday”
In Florida we have a flag system to indicate beach conditions. If deemed dangerous enough, either because of rip tides, strong surf, or marine life (read: sharks), double-red flags fly, and the beach closes. Shore Patrol has authority to ticket anyone violating a double-red warning.
Understandably, DR flags fly before, during and immediately after a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall. It’s hard to explain just how powerful rip tides are and how deceptively fast you can be dragged out into open water, sometimes miles from shore.
Regardless of how strong a swimmer you are, you can become a drowning victim within minutes.
Here is the portion of this post where I rant…
I don’t care how far you traveled to vacation at the beach. I don’t care how long you’ve lived near the ocean and that you’ve swam in stronger tides when you were a kid.
Your right to enjoy the Gulf ends when you put someone else’s life at risk to pull your sorry ass out of that water because you chose to disregard the law or that no one is going to tell you, you can’t go for a swim. Once you became a potential victim it’s the obligation of the Shore Patrol to make heroic efforts to save you, at risk to their own life and the lives of their fellow patrol members.
The first named storm of 2012, Alberto, formed on May 19, nearly two weeks before the official June 1 start of the Atlantic and Gulf Hurricane season.
*The backstory of this post is an excerpt from a post first published on my former site, “If Mom Says OK,” on Sept. 12, 2008, in the wake of Hurricane Ike which made landfall on Sept. 7 in Galveston, TX; updated and edited.