Death Toll Rises at Florida Beach

3 Panama City tourists die in one day after plunging into rough Gulf surf
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2023 4:57 PM CDT
Death Toll Rises at Florida Beach
Panama City Beach stock photo   (Getty/Bethany White)

Three tourists who ventured into Gulf of Mexico waters, though Florida authorities had closed the area to swimmers because of rough surf conditions at the time, died Saturday. Police described the deaths as "three separate fatal water incidents behind three different resorts" off Panama City Beach, USA Today reports. Officials don't know whether the cause of death was drowning or something else, such as a medical emergency, while fighting rip currents. Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford voice frustration in a Facebook post, saying he's seen people on the beach curse employees who tried to warn them about the dangerous surf.

"I have watched while deputies, firefighters, and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers," Ford wrote, per WMBB. "I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on Father's Day." Seven people have now died on Bay County beaches in nine days, the highest toll in a single spot in the nation this year, per a National Weather Service database. There were reports of 70 distressed swimmers over the past 10 days in the area, with about 40 of them being on Saturday.

People who ignore the warnings and go into the water can face a $500 fine. "We don't have the resources or time to cite every single person that enters the water," Ford wrote. The city's release said Panama City police and beach safety officials "implore the public to always heed the double red flag warnings and always be aware of the dangers that can accompany these conditions." (Panama City has faced dangerous rip currents before.)

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