PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) —The momentum continued to grow Wednesday over a Fox News story about local beach safety on the heel of seven recent drownings.
The story labeled Panama City Beach as the “deadliest beach in America” and suggested people should make other vacation plans.
From June 15 to June 25, seven people drowned on Bay County beaches, and dozens more had to be rescued. Almost all of this happened under double red flags when beaches were closed to swimmers.
Local leaders say the story is overblown, but they aren’t offering any solutions to the problem.
“Well, I think that is kind of blown out of proportion because we all know that headline I mean, people read and yes, we are having our issues this year. It’s I can’t deny that,” said Panama City Beach Council Member Mary Coburn.
Everyone in Bay County’s drowning happened when people either ignored the double red flags or went into the water to rescue someone else.
None of the drownings happened on the beaches manned by lifeguards.
“It’s always possible to get more lifeguards. But the real thing that we need here is to get people to take personal responsibility and stay out of the water, in red and double red flag days. We just can’t stress that enough,” said Coburn.
Both the Panama City Beach Police Department and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office have roving beach patrols.
There are also two lifeguard stands on each side of the city pier, 10-full-time, and 12 seasonal lifeguards.
The Tourist Development Council spends $2.8 million on beach safety, including $40,000 on each lifeguard.
“It’s up to the city and the county to determine the best use of those dollars, you know because the TDC has them available but it’s up to the city leadership and the county leadership to allocate those as they see appropriate,” Executive Director of Bay County TDC Dave Rowe said.
Despite the negative news coverage, at least one local said she doesn’t think it will have a major impact.
“It might deter some, but I bet most will still continue to come. They have their vacation plans. I mean, we plan all of the year in advance. So, it’s not going to stop most people probably from coming,” said tourist Lisa Brown.
Rowe said the TDC will do all it can to educate tourists about beach safety.