Nearly 200 people rescued from Gulf in two days

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PANHANDLE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Red flags didn't keep folks out of the Gulf this weekend.

In a two-day span, nearly 200 people were rescued along the Emerald Coast.

Last week, a string of storms and south winds churned up the Gulf of Mexico, stirring up a chain reaction of water rescues.

"It was a combination of people being cooped up and having a lot of energy and kind of disregarding the water conditions and using just a little bit less good judgment," South Walton Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said.

More than 126 rescues in two days according to Destin Beach Safety's Facebook, another six on Okaloosa Island, and dozens more in South Walton.

"Between Bay County, ourselves, Destin, Okaloosa, all the way over to Navarre and Gulf Shores, we all talk a lot. The beach safety directors, we all keep in close contact and we all experienced the same thing. I understand Destin had an even busier day than we did. I know Okaloosa had a very busy day. We're all in the same boat and we're all supporting each other," Vaughan explained. "We had 13 full-blown EMS rescues and we had between 15 and 20 guard-initiated public assist call, where the guards would call it in, let EMS or the dispatch know they were going out to pluck people out and we got everybody in safely and no people needed any transport but we did pull over 50 people out of the water in about a six-hour period."

And despite red beach safety flags and social media posts, officials said they just couldn't keep people out of the water.

"That was the busiest day we've had in three years," Vaughan pointed out. "This type of day, it was surprising we had to do so many but these types of days are actually pretty predictable. We did prepare for it, we briefed for it. We put out some more social media messaging, so we knew it was coming."

While all of those people were pulled out safely, and the flags were reduced to yellow on Sunday, one man still lost his life.

According to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, they had one fatality over the weekend when a Texas man tried to save his children off Destin beach and drowned. That incident comes just days after a Mississippi teen died, marking the second fatal drowning in Okaloosa County in the past five days.

"It is frustrating because we would like people to heed the warnings as we're giving them to them but we realize we can't reach everyone all the time. So we're happy to be there and we're happy to help," Vaughan added. "The community has really embraced the culture of lifesaving all across the Panhandle and we're really enthused about that, so we're doing everything we can to help grow that in the community."