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California

408 people rescued from strong rip currents at L.A. County beaches

Dangerous rip currents have prompted warnings at Southern California beaches after lifeguards rescued more than 400 people swept away by strong waves on Tuesday.

Using rescue boats from Baywatch Santa Monica and Baywatch Del Rey, Los Angeles County lifeguards pulled 18 people from the waters at Venice Beach in one operation about 2:30 p.m. after a strong rip current dragged them away from the shore all at the same time. 

“It’s scary because you don’t want to lose anybody,” lifeguard Capt. Kenichi Haskett said.

Tuesday’s rescue at Venice Beach was one of the largest groups lifeguards could recall being pulled from the water at one time. In 1997-98, 18 to 19 people were rescued at once at Venice Beach.

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The number of people, 408, that lifeguards at L.A. County beaches had to rescue Tuesday also was unusually high.

In Ventura County, four swimmers were plucked from the water off an Oxnard beach because of strong currents.

Lifeguards say dangerous conditions will continue through Friday and advised beachgoers to use caution in the water.

Haskett said lifeguards were rescuing more people because the warm weather is bringing more visitors to local beaches, which are experiencing large surf and strong winds.

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Ocean temperatures are also increasing due to El Niño, creating the “perfect storm,” he said.

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Forecasters say the warm weather can trick beachgoers into thinking the ocean is safe, but dangers are still lurking underwater in strong currents that can pull swimmers out to sea.

Rip currents form at breaks in sand bars and near jetties and piers, according to the National Weather Service.

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The strong currents, with an average speed of 1- to 2- feet per second, flow away from the shore at surf beaches. Some currents can move as fast as 8 feet per second, which the weather service says is faster than an Olympic swimmer.

Forecasters advise beachgoers to enter the ocean only if lifeguards are present. If you are caught in a rip current, remain calm. Lifeguards and forecasters says it’s best to relax and float to conserve energy.

Don’t fight the current and do not swim directly toward the shore. Swimmers should paddle parallel to the shoreline to break away from the current’s pull. After escaping the current, swim at an angle away from the current then toward the shore.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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