BELMAR, NJ — Despite a swimming ban on Belmar beaches triggered by dangerous rip currents, 35 people were pulled this weekend from the rough surf by first responders, according to authorities.
Although there were no serious injuries reported, ocean rescues on Sept. 23 and 24 kept the all-volunteer Belmar Water Rescue Team and Belmar First Aid Squad, as well as the police department, extremely busy ensuring the safety of all beachgoers during the unusually warm weekend — even those who repeatedly refused to heed their warnings, authorities said.
“We’ve been begging people to stay out of the water,” said Lake Como Mayor Brian Wilton, a member of the Belmar Rescue Team who was leading its effort this weekend. “They would watch us do a serious rescue and then they didn't want to understand why they couldn’t go in the water.”
Also, several beachgoers reported numerous incidents of people being told by first responders or police to get out of the surf, only to go back into the water immediately afterward.
Because of the severe water conditions, Wilton said that 12 rescue team members volunteered to continue beachfront patrols through dusk on Sunday.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, one of the rescues required the Belmar Water Rescue Team to ask for assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard. Watchstanders at Coast Guard Delaware Bay were notified by the team at about 5:50 p.m. that swimmers were in distress off the Fourth Avenue beach.
A 29-foot response boat was dispatched from the Coast Guard’s nearby Shark River station. While two lifeguards and an off-duty police officer also swam out to assist the swimmers, the boat crew arrived on the scene and recovered five people from the water, according to the Coast Guard. They were transported to the Shark River station, where emergency medical service personnel delivered assistance.
Belmar’s swimming ban is expected to remain in effect until surf conditions improve. As Hurricane Maria continues to churn along the East Coast, the National Weather Service reports there is a high risk for the formation of dangerous and life-threatening rip currents at ocean beaches at the Jersey Shore through at least Sept. 25.
Belmar's implementation of a swimming ban on Sept. 24 came on the same day a swimmer died after being pulled from the waters off Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch. Information of the victim's identity has not been released by authorities. On September 22, Erin Higgins, 42, of Harriman, N.Y., died after being pulled by first responders from the ocean on September 20 on the Asbury Park beach near Deal Lake Drive.
And several months ago, Belmar suffered its own tragic drowning incidents when cousins Mitzi Hernandez Nicolas, 13, and Emily Gonzalez Perez, 12, were pulled from the Ninth Avenue beach on June 15. While Hernandez Nicolas was pulled unconscious from the waters and pronounced dead, Gonzalez Perez died several days later.
In August, Belmar placed rip current warning signs and flotation buoys at 19 locations along its 1.3-mile oceanfront — its first step in a public education campaign to raise water safety awareness on its beaches.
The signs are written in both English and Spanish and include a large diagram on how to get out of a rip current. The signage and safety-orange buoys also have been placed at Belmar’s L Street Beach on the Shark River, located near Maclearie Park on Route 35.