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6 beachgoers in Florida killed by dangerous surf and currents

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida – Strong surf killed at least six people on both coasts of Florida in two days, and authorities warned that dangerous beach conditions were likely to continue.

Deaths were reported along Hutchinson Island on Florida's Treasure Coast and along Panama City Beach in the Florida Panhandle.

Due to adverse weather conditions, which included rough surf and strong, gusty winds that occurred throughout most of the Southeast and Gulf Coasts, the risk of rip currents was assessed to be high in both regions.

All of the beachgoers were from out of state, which is a common occurrence in drowning accidents along the Sunshine State's coast.

The first death occurred Thursday afternoon, according to the Panama City Beach Fire Department, when a teenager from Oklahoma ventured into the rough Gulf of Mexico.

Lifeguards attempted to rescue the man after he was rescued from the surf, but he eventually succumbed to his injuries.

Parents drown in the currents of a Florida beach while on vacation with six children

About 300 miles away off Hutchison Island in Martin County, a similar scenario occurred: A family from Pennsylvania was swept out into the Atlantic Ocean by a backwash.

The Martin County Sheriff's Office reported that the couple's two children made it back to shore without the help of rescue personnel, but their parents were found unconscious and taken to a local hospital.

Deputies said both the 51-year-old father and 48-year-old mother were later pronounced dead.

And on Friday, a group of men between the ages of 24 and 25 disappeared in the rough surf, sparking a multi-agency search in Bay County around Panama City Beach.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office announced Saturday that all victims had been found but had succumbed to their injuries.

“I am praying for their family and ask that you do the same. This is such a tragedy. I saw so many people, including visitors to our community, gather on the beach last night, desperately searching for them,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said in a statement.

In 2023, more than 30 people were reported to have died due to rip currents in the Sunshine State, more than half of them in the Panhandle.

Last summer, after nearly a dozen deaths occurred on Panhandle beaches in two weeks, Ford posted an online rant about the apparent lack of personal responsibility shown by visitors when venturing into waters deemed too rough.

Surf riptides are the number one weather-related cause of death in Florida.

These hidden dangers occur when waves break near the shore, piling up the water to form a narrow, fast-flowing current that quickly carries swimmers away from the shore, catching them by surprise.

The National Weather Service advises beachgoers to always swim near lifeguards and keep an eye on ocean conditions.

If you get caught in a rip current, do not swim against the current. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim safely back to shore.

FLORIDA'S BIGGEST WEATHER-RELATED KILLER LURKS ON BEACHES

The threat of rip currents was expected to remain elevated through the work week as onshore currents continued to prevail along many of the state's coastal communities.

Red or yellow flags were flying on many beaches to warn of dangerous surf conditions and strong currents.

Anna Harden

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