In total, nine people have died of drowning between last month and so far. Among the victims are locals and tourists, and eight of the fatalities have been on beaches throughout the island. In those cases, people were swept away by ocean currents. (Luis Alcalá Del Olmo)
In September, statistically speaking, one person drowned on the beaches and rivers of Puerto Rico every 3.75 days. October is just beginning and there are already reports of at least one death by submersion.
In total, nine people have died of drowning between last month and so far. Among the victims are locals and tourists, and eight of the fatalities have been on beaches throughout the island . In those cases, people were swept away by ocean currents.
Agencies such as the Police Bureau and the Bureau for Emergency Management and Disaster Administration (NMEAD) have rescued people from the water, even by air – with helicopters – but there are many “scares” and “narrowly” “That are not reported, according to experts in aquatic safety.
As of press time, there has not been an official pronouncement by the Executive on this situation, which the same experts classified as “emergency” and “regrettable” , and which has the potential to affect both recreation options for Puerto Ricans, as well as the image of the country abroad as a tourist destination for beaches.
“ Nine deaths by submergence in less than a month and a half is an exaggeration. It is regrettable and unacceptable, but it seems that the government does not care about this emergency. It is true that each person should avoid going to the beach if there are high waves, but it is the government's responsibility to ensure the residents and people we invite to Puerto Rico to spend money attracted by the beaches, ”said the director of the Sea Grant Program of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Ruperto Chaparro .
“The number of drownings is considerable, especially on the beaches. In Puerto Rico, weather conditions are very changeable and we see this effect directly in the behavior of ocean currents. Unfortunately, there is no plan to effectively alert citizens about the high risk that exists in these places, which are mostly touristy and highly frequented, ”said, for his part, the president of the Association of Emergency Managers and Professionals of Security , Nazario Lugo .
For more than 15 years, the Sea Grant Program has studied the statistics of deaths by submersion on beaches and other bodies of water in Puerto Rico. On average, 30 people drown each year.
The commissioner of the NMEAD, Nino Correa, could not specify how many deaths due to drowning there have been in 2020, but estimated that “they could reach 20”. “September has been the peak,” he said.
Since mid-September, the National Meteorological Service (SNM) warned of dangerous conditions and strong waves, so the call for caution was constant.
Anyone can be dangerous
Based on the statistics, the Sea Grant Program identified the most dangerous beaches for bathers in the country. They have strong waves and a high risk of ocean currents, which makes them prone to deaths from drowning.
On the north coast, the list is made up of Jobos (Isabela), Mar Chiquita and La Poza de las Mujeres (Manatí), La Poza del Obispo (Arecibo) and Condado beaches, between the Marriott and La Concha (San Juan) hotels. In the east, there are the beaches La Pared (Luquillo), Escondida (Fajardo), Inches (Patillas) and Palmas del Mar (Humacao). The list is completed, in the south, by Ballena beach (Guánica), and in the west, Domes (Rincón).
Of the nine drownings between September and so far this month, three were on the Condado beach, one in La Poza de las Mujeres and another in Jobos. The rest occurred on the beaches of Isla Verde and Piñones (two people at a time), and the remainder corresponds to a man who was swept away by a water blow in a ravine in Arecibo.
“But regardless of the list, any beach can be dangerous. If at the moment when the visitors are breaking the strong waves, it will be dangerous because the currents are going to form, ”Chaparro warned.
He added that “neither the spas managed by (the National Parks Program) are no longer a safe option (for recreation) for locals and tourists.”
Chaparro referred to the fact that, as reported by El Nuevo Día last July, not all the National Parks spas are open and, in those that receive the public, there are infrastructure and water safety failures . Some have been closed since Hurricane Maria three years ago, there is a shortage of lifeguards and security towers are destroyed, among other problems.
Why so many deaths?
Asked why so many drowning deaths occur on the island, Correa replied: “ I think this is related to overconfidence. It is not for lack of information. From early in the morning, the message (about the conditions in the sea) comes through the media, but people challenge the potential danger that exists in the bodies of water ”.
Along these lines, the NMEAD commissioner spoke in favor of fining those who defy bad weather.
Chaparro and Lugo agreed that information on weather conditions is available through multiple channels – social networks, radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet – but they regretted that, in general terms, Puerto Ricans are not in the habit of seeking it before going. To a beach.
“We are not pending on this. We simply made the decision to go to the beach and that's it, but that has cost and costs many lives continuously. It is unfortunate that there are so many deaths and there is not a concerted governmental response with the private sector, ”Lugo said.
As a possible additional cause, Chaparro mentioned that ” the aquatic skills of Puerto Ricans have not developed to the same level as in other countries, where people learn to swim in school .” In his opinion, it is ironic that, in Puerto Rico, where the beach is “the main opportunity for outdoor recreation” because parks are scarce, people hardly know how to swim.
“We would like to be everywhere so that this does not happen, but it is not possible. If we have to jump into the water, of course we do it, as we have done so many times. But on many occasions it is not possible to be on the site. These cases are very sad, ”explained Correa.
The three interviewees recognized that concrete and forceful actions are needed to address the water safety problem in the country.
In the short term and with little or no investment, hotels could not only provide information on weather conditions to tourists who ask at the front desk, but also broadcast it on room televisions and hand out flyers. Lugo stressed that the information must be transmitted in Spanish and English.
They could also install flags that alert – with a traffic light color system – whether or not the sea is suitable for bathers and hire private lifeguards. These two options, said Chaparro, could be paid for with a “room tax” (tax) that visitors pay for each night of stay.
But you have to keep in mind the limitations of education. The signs don't save people, the talks are only captured by a few people, and hardly anyone asks if there are rip currents before hitting a beach. People are needed on the beaches… lifeguards in the open sea, trained to the highest standards and with the necessary equipment to do their job. This has to be a priority for the government and it has to be tied to the income from tourism ”, stressed the director of the Sea Grant Program.
Chaparro and Lugo urged that National Parks optimize the condition of their spas, so that they can be massively promoted to visit them.