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New Buffalo officials talk beach safety after drownings in Lake Michigan

NEW BUFFALO, Mich. -- It was a deadly weekend on Lake Michigan.

In Grand Haven, just north of Michiana, 2 people died in very choppy water.

ABC 57 News was wondering if local beaches are ready in the event of an emergency.

At City Beach in New Buffalo, a lifeguard is available on holidays and weekends, which the city considers to be Friday through Monday.

Monday afternoon, ABC 57 News spoke with city officials, the lifeguard at City Beach, and parents to see whether or not they’re prepared.

Weekends and holidays are the only time you’ll see Lifeguard Faith Hoekstra at City Beach in New Buffalo.

On the days she’s not here, David Richards, City Manager for the City of New Buffalo, says people will “have to swim at their own risk, and that’s clearly marked. And [the city has] done that in the past as well, that’s not just this season.”

Richards was right.

Signs as beachgoers approach the parking lot, as well as signs on the beach itself, warn beachgoers about swimming at their own risk.

That’s also why swimming at City Beach has been limited to a designated area of about 700 feet which is marked by flags on the beach.

Parents like Lauren Speelman know the risks.

“With Lake Michigan, we’re always concerned about the way the lake seems to be unpredictable,” said Speelman. “I feel like I’m always on high alert with the kiddos and watching how far they’re in and how comfortable we seem.”

But Speelman still thinks more lifeguards at the beach would be great.

“More eyes on kiddos, and even adults, is always better than less eyes,” said Speelman. “So, the more hands on deck, the better.”

After all, lifeguards can provide beachgoers with important information that can keep their experiences at the beach safe and fun.

“In the lake, the weather changes what the dangers are from day to day,” said Hoekstra. “If there’s a specific lifeguard at the beach, you can ask the lifeguard what to look out for at that specific beach.”

Hoekstra and city officials say what happened in Grand Haven could happen here in Michiana, too.

Which is why if you’re caught out in the water and start panicking, Hoekstra has a key tip.

“The most important thing to know is if you find yourself panicking is to calm down and to flip over on your back, and float, and take a few deep breaths, and float,” said Hoekstra. “As long as you stay afloat, you have a much better chance of surviving, and just wait for help.”

David Richards from the City of Buffalo stresses that there is always a risk for beachgoers, regardless of whether or not there is a lifeguard.

Richards urges the public to be careful when going out to the beach during days lifeguards are and are not present.

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