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Five Drown at Northeast Florida Beach

May 31, 1994

AMERICAN BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Strong riptides pulled at least 11 people under water Monday, drowning five and creating pandemonium at beaches packed with Memorial Day visitors on Florida’s northeast coast.

The six others were rescued from beaches in Nassau County and taken to hospitals, said fire and rescue Chief Michael Green.

″It was almost a riot situation,″ Green said. ″There was mass confusion and hysteria. We had difficulty getting our units to the beach.″

Three women, a man and an 11-year-old boy drowned at American Beach, authorities said.

″We think one boy got in trouble and they all tried to help,″ Green said.

Four of the swimmers were treated at hospitals and released. A 41-year-old woman was in serious condition at a hospital and a man was in stable condition, officials said.

There are no lifeguards on Nassau County beaches, Sheriff Ray Geiger said. ″There’s big signs that say swim at your own risk,″ he said.

Angel Walters, 12, and her 11-year-old brother, Antoine, were caught in the riptide before being plucked out by rescuers.

″We were in the water and all of a sudden the tide just took us all out,″ Angel Walters said. ″We were trying to swim in but we couldn’t. It just kept pulling us farther out.

″I went under a couple of times,″ she said. ″I thought I was going to drown. Then some man came and took a hold of my arm. He pulled me out.″

Swimmers were told to leave beaches on Amelia Island, including Fernandina and American beaches.

″We have undertows here from time to time, but this was a particularly bad one,″ Green said.

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