At least 10 people washed off piers on Lake Michigan Sunday, including a New Jersey man who was swept off Grand Haven’s north pier.
Officials said all of the incidents occurred within an hour and a half of each other.
The New Jersey man told police he was driving through the area and stopped to check out Lake Michigan.
He walked out on Grand Haven’s north pier and was swept off onto the lake side, said Lt. Clint Holt of Grand Haven Public Safety. He was about 20 yards from the end of the pier.
Police were called on a water rescue at about 4:30 p.m.
“He was completely ignorant of the power of the lake,” Holt said.
The man was rescued by an unknown surfer and was already in the ambulance when police arrived, the lieutenant said. He was treated and released.
“Today we’re just having a rash of people getting washed off piers,” said Coast Guard Station Grand Haven Chief Justin Olson.
Besides the incident in Grand Haven, three people were washed off the piers in both Ludington and Sheboygan, Wis., as well as two in Frankfort, said Lt. Jr. Grade Tom Morrell of Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.
“One person was recovered and taken to the hospital,” Morrell said of the Sheboygan.incident. “They’re still looking for the other two,” he said at about 8 p.m. Sunday.
Morrell said the Ludington incident involved a mother and two children who were swept off the north pier.
“A good Samaritan threw a life ring and two people went into the water to help,” he said. All three were recovered.
In Frankfort, a man and a woman were swept off the north pier, but were able to swim to shore, Morrell said.
Winds gusting up to about 40 mph helped push the waves up to 7 feet, Olson said.
“They were building up to 9 feet at the mouth of Grand Haven,” he said.
Although the gale warning ended at 7 p.m., small craft advisories would be in effect all night, Olson said.
“We’re not going to get much of a reprieve,” he said. Olson noted that the winds had been blowing in the 22-27 mph range most of the day.
Both Holt and Olson emphasized that just a few inches of water will knock a grown man off his feet and wash him off the pier.
“It’s really dangerous out there right now,” Olson said.
Holt said there was discussion as to whether or not to close the pier to the public Sunday evening, but instead they chose to assign an officer at the pier to talk to people about the dangers out there.
Olson said a Coast Guard 47-foot lifeboat was also patrolling the channel, just in case anything happened and also to look for risky behavior.
“With these high water levels, waves are washing over the pier more than people expect,” Olson said.
The chief noted when there is a red flag, people should stay off the pier and out of the lake.
“Think about what you are doing before you go out there,” Holt said.
Officials said that while docks, break walls, piers and rocks appear to be ideal places to take pictures or video of storms, members of Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan and its sub-units on the lake have responded to numerous cases involving people swept off of a wall or pier by rough seas.
Coast Guard search and rescue experts encourage safer alternatives for community members interested in observing the weather.
There are numerous cameras around Lake Michigan that offer online video feeds of the beaches and piers, and weather permitting, local lakefront parks or parking lots often offer safe vantage points.
Those who do brave the weather are encouraged to stay a safe distance — approximately 25 feet — from the water, especially in areas near breaking waves.
“Wearing a life jacket or having a flotation device is always advised when near the water,” said Cmdr. Leanne Lusk, Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan’s chief of response.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts high winds and heavy seas until Monday evening.
This article originally appeared in the Grand Haven Tribune.