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Concerns Mount About Rip Currents As Swimmers Pack Beaches

LONG BRANCH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Rip currents have been to blame for a drowning off Far Rockaway, Queens and multiple rescues along the Jersey Shore – all in one day this week.

As CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reported, the threat was moderate on Thursday long the South Shore of Long Island and along the Jersey Shore. As people packed the beaches for Memorial Day, lifeguards said it is crucial that everyone understand the risk and think about what they will do if caught up in a rip current.

The sound of surf may lull people into a false sense of security. The bigger the surf, the more powerful rip currents become.

Carol Taormina of North Haledon, New Jersey has firsthand experience with it.

"Very, very scary," she said, "because they couldn't get out of it."

Taormina's daughter got swept away by a rip current years ago. Thankfully, a lifeguard brought to her back to shore alive.

Now, Taormina said: "I always ask my daughters before they go in, 'What do you do if you get caught in a rip current?'"

As CBS2's Murdock and her crew walked the beach, they asked those obviously enjoying the surf if they knew what to do in a rip current.

Stephen Brana said he considers himself a pretty strong swimmer, but when asked if he knows what to do in a rip current, he said, "I don't, to be honest."

And Amanda Dalessio of Staten Island said, "You're supposed to go against it; like try to fight it? No?"

In fact, that is the exact opposite of what you need to do.

"If it's taking you out, let it take you out. It's going to stop," said beach manager Dan George of Long Beach Public Beaches. "And then you swim parallel."

George added that as you step your foot in the water this weekend, you must remember it's been a while.

"It's not August of last year, so you know, you're not in that kind of swimming shape," he said. "And they jump right back into it like they're primed and ready to go."

George also urged caution and advised that people should always swim by a lifeguard.

"Our bathers are to swim between the blue flags," he said.

Flags mark the safe zone, and guards swim daily to assess the location and strength of the rips, They typically form where sand is cut away -- near jetties and underwater channels called groins.

Also, said professor Jon Miller of Stevens Institute of Technology, "There is a danger of rip currents whenever you see a sandbar."

Miller said if there is a gap in the sandbar, water can escape. Rip currents here can be even more dangerous because the location changes with tide cycles.

This weekend, rip currents could be a problem. There is potential for a tropical storm to develop in the Atlantic Ocean and move toward the southeast coast.

If this happens, the sea will be churned up - increasing the likelihood of powerful rips.

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