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South Haven creates beach safety placemats for restaurants

Emergency crews want visitors to know Lake Michigan's power, danger of rip currents.

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — It should be a hot and humid Saturday in West Michigan. But there is the chance for potentially dangerous waves due to high winds this weekend. 

"A lot of our concerns are visitors to the area that don’t respect the lake; they don’t understand the magnitude of it," said Brandon Hinz, executive director for South Haven Area Emergency Services (SHAES), "It’s a big beautiful body of water. It defines our community, but it's very tumultuous at times and unpredictable."

That's why SHAES teamed up with the Safe Kids Greater South Haven to create beach safety placemats for local businesses. 

The illustrated, colorful signs highlight tips for escaping rip currents, walking the pier, beach flag warnings, and warnings about digging in the sand.

The goal of printing them on place mats around town is to attract the attention of visitors to the dangers of Lake Michigan. However, Hinz said even locals could use the reminder. 

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Flags were mostly green Friday, but crews warn to still watch out for rip currents.

"It's a little different animal than an ocean current," said Hinz, "A six-foot wave in California is different than a six-foot wave on Lake Michigan. We still have strong currents along the shore against the piers, and rip currents heading out. There's just a lot of factors to deal with."

Ten thousand of the place mats were printed over the past few weeks. They are now being distributed to local restaurants, as well as realtors and vacation rentals. The design was created by a local illustrator.

Copies are also available at the South Haven Van/Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce. 

SHAES beach flag interns are monitoring the situation with the potential high winds this weekend. 

"High winds are bringing high waves," said Maddie Dederichs, a beach flag intern with SHAES. "The thing you want to make sure you're looking out for is rip currents. Lake Michigan is a lot different than oceans around the country and they may be hidden."

It's Dederichs's job to monitor the National Weather Service, currents, waves and other water conditions to put out the flag warnings along the beach. The warnings are updated every three hours. 

"We have our north and south pier," said Dederich, " they have different kind of waves hitting, and coming back in different directions that a lot of swimmers might not recognize what kind of power is there."

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