Safety Tips in North Carolina

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Most Viewed Warnings and Dangers in North Carolina

  • acemj's Profile Photo

    Watch your step!

    by acemj Written Oct 10, 2002

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    The soil in the Carolinas is often a red clay that will stain your clothes, so watch your step. As a result of the abundance of this clay, you'll notice that brick is widely used as a building material.

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    The Outer Banks is known for...

    by ladyfisher Written Aug 24, 2002

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    The Outer Banks is known for its sparkling, clean beaches. Sun worshippers of all kinds and from all parts of the world come to the Outer Banks to play in the usually gentle surf. But remember, the ocean is a fickle being and can change her mood in the blink of an eye. Each beach is different and to stay safe you need to follow a few rules. Store these tips along with your seashells to help make your stay a comfortable and safe one.

    The Ocean
    Most of the time, you don't even notice the bare flagpoles dotting the dunes up and down our coast. But when the ocean is too rough for swimming, there's no way you can miss the red flags hoisted all along the beach. If red flags are flying, do not go into the water at all. Not only will the ocean be too dangerous for swimming or wading, it is against the law to swim during a red-flag warning. You will be fined for going into the water.

    The flags signify not only dangerous waves, but deadly rip currents as well. Churning water can easily knock you down, and reports of broken bones are not uncommon. Rough water also produces floating debris--such as ships' timbers--that seems to come from nowhere. We've seen adult men wading in knee-deep water knocked down by powerful waves and dragged by rip currents on red-flag days. In short, even if you see surfers in the water, stay out while the flags are flying, and caution children to keep well away from the tide line. Keep in mind, too, that if you go into the water while the flags are flying and need rescuing, you are jeopardizing not only your life but also the lifeguard's life when he or she has to come in after you.

    Water Sense
    • Never swim alone.
    • Never swim at night.
    • Observe the surf before going in the water, looking for potentially dangerous currents.
    • Nonswimmers should stay out of the water and wear life jackets if they're going to be near the water.
    • Swim in areas with on-duty lifeguards, or use extreme care.
    • Keep nonswimming children well above the marks of the highest waves.
    • Keep an eye on children at all times, and teach them never to turn their backs on the waves while they play at water's edge.
    • Don't swim near anglers or deployed fishing lines.
    • Stay 300 feet away from fishing piers.
    • Watch out for surfers and give them plenty of room.

    Losing Control in the Waves
    If a wave crashes down on you while you are surfing or swimming, and you find yourself being tumbled in bubbles and sand like a sheet in a washing machine, don't try to struggle to the surface against it. Curl into a ball, or just go limp and float. The wave will take you to the beach, or you can just swim to the surface when it passes.

    Backwash Current
    A backwash current on a steeply sloping beach can pull you toward deeper water, but its power is swiftly checked by incoming waves. To escape this current, swim straight toward shore if you're a strong swimmer. If you're not, don't panic; wait and float until the current stops, then swim in.

    Littoral Current
    The littoral current is a 'river of water' moving up or down the shoreline parallel to the beach. It is created by the angled approach of the waves. In stormy conditions, this current can be very powerful due to high wave energy.

    Rip Currents
    Rip currents often occur where there's a break in a submerged sandbar. Water trapped between the sandbar and the beach rushes out through the breach, sometimes sweeping swimmers out with it. You can see a rip; it's choppy, turbulent, often discolored water that looks deeper than the water around it. If you are caught in a rip, don't try to swim against the current. Instead, swim across the current, parallel to the shore, and slowly work your way back to the beach at an angle. Try to remain calm. Panic will only sap the energy you need to swim out of the rip.

    When a wave comes up on the beach and breaks, the water must run back down to the sea. This is undertow. It sucks at your ankles from small waves, but in heavy surf the undertow can knock you off your feet and carry you offshore. If you're carried out, don't resist. Let the undertow take you out until it subsides. It will only be a few yards. The next wave will help push you shoreward again.

    Watch for jellyfish floating on the surface or in the water. While some can give little more than an annoying stinging sensation, others can produce severe discomfort. The Portuguese man-of-war is sometimes blown onto Outer Banks beaches and can be recognized by its distinctive balloon-like air bladder, often exhibiting a bluish tint. Man-of-war stings can be serious. Anyone who is stung by the tentacles and develops breathing difficulties or generalized body swelling should be transported to the nearest emergency facility for treatment. In extreme cases, death can result from anaphylactic shock associated with man-of-war toxin exposure.

    If you're stung by a jellyfish, apply vinegar or meat tenderizer to the affected area. Don't rub the wound site, since rubbing can force toxins deeper into the skin. Pain relievers can also allay some discomfort. Infections can occur, so it's also a good idea to see a doctor.

    Beach Services

    Emergency Assistance
    Some areas of the Outer Banks don't have lifeguards or flag systems warning you to stay out of the water. Keep in mind that help can be a long way off, and an emergency is not the time to learn about ocean safety. As you've learned after reading about the ocean currents listed above, water conditions here call for unusual vigilance. While they are vigilant about hanging red warning flags, sometimes they are stolen by souvenir-seeking scavengers. It's always best to listen to local radio stations or call municipal headquarters for daily water conditions anytime you plan to enter the ocean, despite the season. Accidents can and do occur. If you have an emergency and need the rescue squad, dial 911 for help. Please remember that this number is for emergencies only.

    Lifeguard services are at fixed sites throughout Dare and Currituck County.

    In Kill Devil Hills, (252) 480-4066, lifeguard stands are at the following beaches: Helga Street, Hayman Street, Fifth Street, Third Street Sea Ranch, Second Street, First Street, Asheville Drive, Woodmere Avenue, Carlow Avenue, Ocean Bay Boulevard, Oregon Street, Cavalier Motel, Clark Street, Outer Banks Beach Club, Martin Street, Atlantic Street, Holiday Inn/Ramada Inn and the John Yancey Motel. Guards are on duty from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM in the summer.

    Corolla Ocean Rescue, (252) 453-3242, provides guards from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day at the following Corolla beaches: Ocean Hill, Corolla Light, Whalehead, Ocean Sands, and Pine Island.

    Kitty Hawk Ocean Rescue, (252) 261-2666, is now in its second year of operation under the direction Dave Elder. There are currently two stands located at Bryd Street and at the Kitty Hawk Bathhouse, but additional stands are being planned for in the future. The stands are staffed from 10 AM to 6 PM, seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. From Labor Day through mid October, there is a supervisor on the beach.

    Lifeguard Beach Service guards are on the beach from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Their hours at the designated sites are 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM daily, but hours and locations are subject to change without notice. They can be reached at (252) 441-4200, or check out their web site at for detailed information. Lifeguard Beach Service stands are at the following beaches:

    • In Duck: Ocean Pines, North Snow Geese Drive, Barrier Island, and Plover Drive.

    • On Roanoke Island: Old Swimming Hole (Manteo Swimming Hole), on the sound at the airport.

    Ocean Rescue Services, (252) 441-5909, are provided by the town of Nags Head to that town's beaches. This service is also provided to Southern Shores through a contracted arrangement. Guarded beaches are available daily beginning Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, 10 AM until 6 PM. Nags Head Ocean Rescue stands will be located at the following beaches:

    • In Southern Shores: Hillcrest and Chicahauk.

    • In Nags Head: Bonnett Street, Gallery Row, Forrest Street, Glidden Street, Epstein Street,

    Hargrove Street, Enterprise Street, Juncos Street and at the Nags Head Inn.

    Within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, lifeguards will be on duty daily beginning Memorial Day weekend at Coquina, Frisco and Ocracoke beaches, and starting June 21 at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Lifeguard service ends after Labor Day.

    Always use caution before entering and/or swimming in the ocean, and be alert for red warning flags and red-and-white warning posters.

    The effects of alcohol can be amplified by the heat and sun of a summer afternoon, so be aware. It's illegal to operate boats or motor vehicles if you've had too much to drink, and enforcement officers keep an eye out for violators, so practice moderation. Alcohol and swimming can be a potentially deadly combination. Even small amounts of alcohol can give you a false sense of security.

    Safety in the Sun
    It's amazing how many red-bodied people we see lying on the beach, limping into restaurants or, worse yet, waiting in medical centers while visiting the Outer Banks. Yes, The sun feels so good. Combined with the sea air, it seems to have a rejuvenating effect. Actually any form of tan or burn is now considered damaged skin. These tips will help keep you comfortable.

    • Start out with short periods of sun exposure when you first arrive. It seems as if most visitors initially overdo it and have to be careful for the rest of their stay. The summer sun is pretty intense, and you'd be surprised how much of a burn your skin can get in 20 or 30 minutes on an afternoon in July. We always take our umbrella to the beach to keep our exposure within reasonable levels. You might want to do the same.

    • Use ample sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) whenever you're in the sun for any length of time. We always put an extra coat on our noses, cheeks, lips and any other high-exposure spots. We also apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before we go out, since it can take a while for it to become fully effective.

    • Avoid the hottest parts of the day, from 10 AM until 2 PM, when the sun's rays are the strongest. It's a great time to take a break from the beach and explore some of the other fun things listed in this guide.

    • Don't be afraid to cover up on the beach. Just remember: healthy, protected skin is a sign of good sense.

    June through November marks hurricane season. Basically, the whole shoreline of the East Coast is threatened when a hurricane blows in, but because of our low elevation, lack of shelter and the situation in the ocean, the barrier islands known as the Outer Banks are especially vulnerable to storms. Forecasters and almanac writers state that a hurricane strikes the Outer Banks approximately once every nine years.

    After the active hurricane season of 1999, visitors and locals alike were reminded of the dangers these huge storms can bring. It's wise to be prepared by packing a hurricane kit in advance.

    When Dare County officials order an evacuation, everyone must leave the Outer Banks. This includes everyone from vacationers who have already paid for their week's stay to permanent residents who are sometimes hesitant to leave their homes. Newspapers, radio, and television stations keep the public notified about evacuations as well as re-entry information. Make plans early especially if you have pets or elderly people with you. The Weather Channel (channel 16 in the local cable listing) will issue early warnings or signs of an approaching storm. By all means, stay off the beaches and out of the water especially during an electrical storm. More information about our emergency procedures can be gleaned by calling Dare County at (252) 473-3355, Currituck County at (252) 232-2115 or Ocracoke at (252) 928-1071.

    Tornadoes spawned by hurricanes are among the worst weather-related killers. When a hurricane approaches, listen for tornado watches and warnings. (A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop. A warning means a tornado has been sighted). When a warning is issued, seek shelter immediately, preferably in an inside room away from any windows. If you are outside at the time and a tornado is headed your way, move away from its path at a right angle. If you feel you don't have time to escape, lie flat in a ditch or ravine.

    Hurricane watches mean a hurricane could threaten the area within 24 hours, but evacuation is not necessary at this point. If a warning is issued however, visitors should leave the islands and head inland using U.S. 64/264 or U.S.158 following the green and white Hurricane Evacuation Route signs.

    Here are some guidelines to help you stay safe if a hurricane threatens.

    • By late May, recheck your supply of boards, tools, batteries, non perishable foods and other items you may need during a hurricane.

    • Listen to the latest weather reports and official notices. This will give you advance notice, sometimes before watches and warnings are issued. Keep a battery-powered radio on hand in case the power goes out.

    • If your area comes under a hurricane watch, continue normal activities but stay tuned to the Weather Channel or to a local radio station and ignore rumors.

    • If your area receives a hurricane warning, stay calm. Leave low-lying areas that may be swept by high tides or storm waves. If there's time, secure mobile homes before leaving for more substantial shelter. Move automobiles to high ground as both sound and sea can flood even central spots on the Outer Banks.

    • Moor boats securely or haul them out of the water to a safe place.

    • Board up windows or protect them with storm shutters. (Though some people recommend using tape on windows, many experts and most locals will tell you tape isn't strong enough to work and it's very difficult to remove). Secure outdoor objects that might blow away such as garbage cans, outdoor furniture, tools, etc. that may become dangerous missiles in high winds. If the items can't be tied down, bring them inside.

    • Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs or bottles since water supplies can become

    contaminated by hurricane floods.

    • Be sure you have lots of flashlights, batteries, a battery-operated radio, and perhaps emergency cooking facilities.

    • Keep your car fueled since service stations may be inoperable for several days following a storm.

    • Stay indoors during a storm, and keep your pets inside too. Do not attempt to travel by foot or car. Monitor weather conditions and don't be fooled by the calm of the hurricane's eye--the storm isn't over yet!

    • Stay out of disaster areas unless you are qualified to help. Your presence might hamper rescue work.

    • If necessary, seek medical attention at the nearest Red Cross disaster station or health center.

    • Do not travel except in an emergency such as transporting someone who is injured. Be careful along debris-filled streets and highways. Roads may be undermined and could collapse under the weight of the car. Floodwater could hide dangerous holes in the road.

    • Avoid loose and dangling wires. Report them to North Carolina Power or the police.

    • Report broken sewer or water mains to the county or town water department.

    • Be careful not to start fires. Lowered water pressure may make fire fighting difficult.

    • Stay away from rivers and streams.

    • Check roofs, windows and outdoor storage areas for wind or water damage.

    • Do not let young children or your pets outside immediately after a storm. There are numerous dangers like fallen power lines and wild animals that have been disoriented because of the storm.

    Remember, you already possess the most important safety tool there is--common sense. Use it often and you're sure to have a safe and enjoyable vacation.

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    Beware when around waterfalls....

    by We_ooo Written Sep 8, 2002

    Beware when around waterfalls. Several people fall to their deaths each year by getting a little to close.

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  • lyricalblue's Profile Photo

    When camping, never try to...

    by lyricalblue Written Aug 24, 2002

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    When camping, never try to turn a Nissan Sentra into an off- road vehicle. Some of us learn this the hard way.

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