Lifeguard Advisor: Inlet ‘Risk Of Drowning’
A former Rockaway lifeguard who is now a national advisor for the United States Lifesaving Association says that the East Rockaway Inlet, the scene of numerous drownings over the past decade, is dangerous and that “there is a significant risk of drowning” off the beaches that front the inlet.
Joe McManus, who served Rockaway’s beaches from 1983 to 1991 and then the beaches of Riis Park until 1997, says that the danger is “exacerbated by the fact that there are several public beaches in the area” as well as the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a jetty on the east end of the inlet but a plan to place a similar jetty in the west side of the inlet was dropped for lack of funds a decade ago.
McManus says that the west side jetty should be built, but failing that, the city should “strictly enforce a no swimming zone when lifeguards are not on duty.” “The tide changes four times a day,” McManus told The Wave this week. “The conditions are naturally dangerous there and they are made worse by the dredging of the Corps of Engineers to keep the inlet open. That dredged inlet is narrow and deep and it makes the natural current that much worse.” Far Rockaway activist Floyd Smith wants to take it one step further.
Smith, who was instrumental in getting larger warning signs on east end beaches after three young girls drowned there, is calling for the city to finally permanently close the beaches along the East Rockaway Inlet, from Beach 3 Street to Beach 25 Street.
“Enough is enough,” says Smith, the president of Concerned Citizens of America. “More than a dozen people have died in or near the East Rockaway channel in the past 11 years, and it is time to close the beaches on that treacherous stretch of water for good.”
Smith says that the idea to close those beaches came to him in 2001, after the three young girls, swimming early in the morning before the lifeguards came on duty, drowned when they were swept into the inlet by the deadly rip currents that come out of the Great South Bay.
Experts say that 2009 was the worst year for Rockaway in terms of rip current drownings.
In that year, there were seven oceanrelated deaths in Rockaway, six of them directly related to rip currents, those experts say.
Four were on public beaches, two at Riis Park, operated by the Federal park service, and one in Breezy Point.
“When water [in the East Rockaway Inlet] flows out towards the ocean and there are gaps in the sandbars, the current pulls swimmers along for the ride,” said one longtime lifeguard who asked not to be identified because she had no permission to speak to the press. “Those currents can undermine somebody even standing in the water and can actually drag them out to sea.”
Earlier this year, a parks department official told reporters, “In certain weather conditions, especially with a lot of wind from the south, the waves can create an opening in the sand bar that extends along the beachfront about 300 yards from the beach.
When that happens, it’s like turning over a five gallon water cooler bottle and ripping the lid off – all the water comes rushing out. If you are in the water where the breach occurs, you get sucked out.”
The Parks Department has no official comment on Smith’s proposal.