Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Changed topography of Clearwater Beach blamed for dangerous currents

RECOMMENDED READING


CLEARWATER — A white sun beat down on Clearwater Beach shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday. After days of wind and rain brought by Tropical Storm Debby, the gulf's surface was smooth as a steel drum.

Mike Felletter, on vacation from New Jersey, was swimming with his son in shallow water at the north end of the beach when he heard screams.

"I thought they were kidding at first," he said. "Then I saw the woman floating."

The 51-year-old Felletter likes the water and considers himself a decent swimmer. He tore out toward two people crying for help near a woman bobbing on her back about 35 feet from shore.

He said her face was submerged when he reached her. Lifting her head, he saw her eyes were closed. Foamy saltwater streamed from her mouth. They were in about 6 feet of water.

The current sucked him outward, Felletter said, like a fast river. He grabbed the middle-aged woman with both arms and scissor-kicked. He moved diagonally toward the shore, aware that in rip currents, you are supposed to swim parallel to the beach until free of the current. Another man came to help him as he approached the beach.

Clearwater Beach lifeguard Donovan Burns was on Tower 5, running his gaze back and forth across the swimmers spread before him. When he heard the screams and saw the disturbance, he hit the water.

First he reached the man and woman who were still conscious, and buoyed them up with an orange flotation device. Then he helped pull the other woman in.

Vacationer Carol Shaffer was on the beach when the unconscious woman was brought ashore. She said the woman was "purple and limp." Bronzed beachgoers watched as five lifeguards gathered around her and began to perform CPR. Some of the tourists began to cry.

Clearwater Fire & Rescue workers arrived.

"They worked on her forever," Shaffer said.

In fact, they performed CPR for about 10 minutes, said chief lifeguard Patrick Brafford. The woman wasn't breathing. Eventually, they restored her pulse and she was taken to Morton Plant Hospital to be treated for what authorities said was a potentially life-threatening near-drowning.

Clearwater authorities did not identify the woman, citing patient privacy laws, but said she was 50 years old. The man and woman with her were family members, authorities said, and declined medical treatment.

According to lifeguard Burns, Tropical Storm Debby shifted the topography of the shore, carving out troughs and pushing up sandbars where none existed before. As a result, the ordinarily gentle slope of Clearwater Beach is now prone to the sudden, powerful currents that form near steep drop-offs in the ocean bottom.

"It's so deceiving, because you look out there and it looks so calm," Shaffer said Thursday.

Yellow flag warnings were posted at Clearwater Beach Thursday, advising swimmers to use caution. On Wednesday, seven swimmers were rescued from rip currents at Pass-a-Grille Beach, in south Pinellas County. One of them later died.

The three swimmers in distress at Clearwater Beach Thursday were not caught in a rip tide, Burns said, just a stronger-than-average current caused by the shifted sands.

Strong swimmers probably would not have had trouble in similar circumstances, he said, but those who aren't fully comfortable in the water should be careful about venturing out of standing depth.

"You just want to be aware," Burns said. "With all the rough surf, the bottom has changed, and there could be hazards up and down our coastline."

Felletter praised the speed with which lifeguards reacted. He and his family stayed at the beach for another few hours Thursday, and even continued swimming. They made sure not to venture too far out in the water.

Clearwater public safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said the woman was still being treated late Thursday afternoon. Her condition was not released.

Burns went back on duty after the ambulance left Clearwater Beach. It was a busy day, with lots of people to watch. He wondered what would become of the woman he had helped rescue.

"I hope she makes it," he said Thursday afternoon. "I hope she makes it."

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Thanksgiving forecast: Rain today, but sunny skies this weekend

Thanksgiving forecast: Rain today, but sunny skies this weekend

It’s going to be a wet Thanksgiving across Tampa Bay, but sunny skies are coming during the long weekend, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Ric Kearbey. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10...
Published: 11/23/17
Forecast: Foggy, then partly cloudy Thanksgiving Eve before holiday rain takes hold across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Foggy, then partly cloudy Thanksgiving Eve before holiday rain takes hold across Tampa Bay

A foggy, then partly cloudy day precedes what potentially could be a wet and dreary Thanksgiving across Tampa Bay.Deep moisture in the region has produced thick fog early Wednesday morning, with visibility reduced to a quarter-mile in some areas — in...
Published: 11/22/17
Nursing home tells Congress Irma deaths not staff’s fault

Nursing home tells Congress Irma deaths not staff’s fault

Associated PressFORT LAUDERDALE — A Florida nursing home under investigation for the deaths of 13 patients after Hurricane Irma says in a letter to Congress that staff members did everything possible but couldn’t overcome a lack of power to the centr...
Published: 11/21/17
Forecast: Clouds build, setting stage for a soggy Thanksgiving across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Clouds build, setting stage for a soggy Thanksgiving across Tampa Bay

Clouds and temperatures are increasing — and so are rain chances – as Thanksgiving could be a soggy one across the Tampa Bay region.[WTSP]Check the latest Tampa Bay-area live radar: The wet outlook is due to a systems that will produce spotty shower...
Published: 11/21/17
Forecast: Sunny, crisp conditions across Tampa Bay ahead of a soggy Thanksgiving

Forecast: Sunny, crisp conditions across Tampa Bay ahead of a soggy Thanksgiving

Crisp, refreshing and sunny fall-like conditions will remain over the Tampa Bay region before a pair of cold fronts move through the area during the week, culminating in a soggy Thanksgiving day.Temperatures are starting off around 10 degrees cooler ...
Published: 11/20/17
Two months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico struggles to regain electricity, thousands flee

Two months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico struggles to regain electricity, thousands flee

Los Angeles Times (TNS)ANASCO, Puerto Rico — The lights remain off in bustling cities and in small rural villages. Gas generators, the only alternative to the downed power lines that seem to be everywhere, continuously hum outside hospitals and bodeg...
Published: 11/19/17
Forecast: Cold front to bring rain, wind gusts to Tampa Bay

Forecast: Cold front to bring rain, wind gusts to Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — A warm Sunday will be threatened by a few afternoon rain showers and wind gusts up to 20 mph, forecasters predict. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10News WTSPFeels-like temperatu...
Published: 11/19/17
Forecast: Ideal conditions across Tampa leading to weekend, but rain is on its way

Forecast: Ideal conditions across Tampa leading to weekend, but rain is on its way

The week ends with more virtually ideal weather conditions across Tampa Bay, but that changes a bit on Sunday with the arrival of a cold front that could result in a soggy Thanksgiving.10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area Whi...
Published: 11/17/17
Forecast: Low clouds will yield to sunny, pleasant conditions across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Low clouds will yield to sunny, pleasant conditions across Tampa Bay

A cloudy morning will lead to another cool, sunny day as a string of pleasant, comfortable days will remain intact across Tampa Bay.Temperatures are starting off in the upper 50s to low 60s. Once the low clouds burn off as the day progresses, dry air...
Published: 11/16/17
Forecast: Sunny, breezy and refreshing conditions prevail across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Sunny, breezy and refreshing conditions prevail across Tampa Bay

Wednesday is setting up as another sunny, pleasant and breezy day across Tampa Bay.10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area Residents are waking up to temperatures anywhere from 5 to 10 degrees cooler than Tuesday, with lows in t...
Published: 11/15/17