Beachgoers warily returned to the water Tuesday afterin three days off northwestern Florida's Panhandle, with tourism officials hoping the maulings won't scare visitors away ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend.
Most vacationers here were aware of the shark attacks that left a 16-year-old boy with his leg nearly severed and killed a 14-year-old girl about 80 miles away. Few went into the Gulf of Mexico in rainy weather Tuesday, and most were paying extra attention as they waded in knee-deep waters.
"We swam every year at the ocean — never been afraid of sharks like we are now," said Celia Page, a teacher from Waycross, Georgia, who was in the water with her 3-year-old daughter. "We're beach lovers. We can't stay away. We're just a lot more cautious now."
Authorities on Tuesday reopened the beach in Cape San Blas, one day after 16-year-old Craig Adam Hutto was bitten in the leg while fishing in waist-deep water about 60 feet from shore. Physicians later amputated the leg of the boy from Lebanon, Tennessee.
That attack came two days after 14-year-old Jamie Marie Daigle was mutilated and killed by a bull shark near Destin.
Gulf County's Board of County Commissioners reopened the beach after deciding that the attack was an isolated incident, and tourism officials said they didn't expect the fear of shark attacks to deter people from coming to Florida.
"I think what it will do is help raise awareness that when swimming in the ocean, you need to be cautious. It's not a public swimming pool. It's an environment with large animals," said Vanessa Welter, director of public relations for Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.
Welter said shark attacks are rare, pointing out that there were only 12 in the state last year and 30 in 2003 among the millions of people who hit the state's beaches. Most of those attacks were minor bites on the feet or ankles.
Those statistics did not comfort Heather Black, of Owensboro, Kentucky, who was visiting Cape San Blas with her husband.
"We're still going to have a nice vacation but I don't really think I'll get back in the Gulf or the ocean again. It's their domain out there," she said.
Gulf County officials walked along the beach Tuesday to tell people about simple steps that help reduce their risk, such as swimming with a group of people and not going into the water with an open wound. People also shouldn't swim at dusk or when it's dark, and shouldn't wear shiny jewelry.
As for Hutto, doctors operated on the boy again Tuesday to clean up the area around the wound, hospital spokeswoman Christa Hild said. Doctors said he would probably be out of the hospital in a matter of weeks, and then would start rehabilitation.
"I anticipate a full recovery but he's got a rocky road ahead of him," said Dr. Reed Finney, a cardiovascular surgeon at Bay Medical Center in Panama City.
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