A beachgoer was killed after being impaled by a beach umbrella

WEATHER NEWS: A beachgoer was killed after being impaled by a beach umbrella

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A woman was killed this week in Garden City, S.C., after a beach umbrella flew into the air and then struck her — a tragic reminder that beach umbrellas can quickly become dangerous projectiles.

After becoming airborne, the umbrella struck and impaled 63-year-old Tammy Perreault as she sat on the beach, according to statements from a Horry County spokesperson and the county’s chief deputy coroner Tamara Willard.

Off-duty medical professionals and bystanders helped the woman before she was transported to a hospital, where she later died. According to local reporting, the umbrella was set free by winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour.

‘Horrific accident’: Woman killed by umbrella at windy Virginia Beach

Her death is just the latest such umbrella-related fatality. In 2016, Lottie Michelle Belk, 55, was celebrating her anniversary and a birthday at Virginia Beach when a flying beach umbrella struck her in the torso, causing fatal injuries. In that case, Virginia Beach police said a “strong gust of wind” tore the umbrella loose from the ground.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 2,800 beach umbrella-related injuries treated in emergency rooms across the country in the nine years between 2010 and 2018. A December 2021 study from the Journal of Safety Research found that at least 5,512 beach umbrella incidents in the United States were referred to emergency rooms and that the victims were disproportionately women over 40.

Wind was involved in more than 50 percent of beach umbrella-related injuries, according to the 2021 study. Lacerations, contusions and abrasions and internal organ injuries made up the three most common injuries. The study suggested that “policymakers should educate the public about the potential dangers of beach and patio umbrellas.”

The CPSC provides tips to the public on how to properly set up a beach umbrella, advising beachgoers to rock their beach umbrellas back and forth until they are two feet deep in the sand, and to tilt the umbrella into the wind to prevent them from blowing away. The CPSC also recommends using some sort of weight or anchor to hold beach umbrellas down.

However, some safety advocates say the CPSC’s latest efforts to protect beachgoers from rogue umbrellas are not enough.

Bill Schermerhorn, president of beachBUB USA, a company that sells a beach umbrella embraced by safety advocates, said the latest guidance from the CPSC is insufficient.

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Schermerhorn is concerned that the CPSC’s advice to tilt the umbrella into the wind is not enough. Wind on the beach can shift quickly and unexpectedly, meaning an umbrella that is set up correctly at one hour could become a hazard the next, especially when it does not take a lot of wind to untether a poorly anchored umbrella.

“If you’ve ever been to the beach and tried to put in an umbrella eight inches into the sand, much less two feet, you realize that’s an impossible task,” Schermerhorn said.

Schermerhorn, who is working with ASTM International to help design safety standards for beach umbrellas, said he wants the CPSC to produce a stronger public-service announcement on beach umbrella safety.

Karla Crosswhite-Chigbue, a spokesperson for CPSC, wrote in an email that the agency is investigating this week’s incident. “CPSC staff is also currently working with a standard development organization in hopes of developing a standard which could help establish the requirements for reliable and safe beach umbrellas and anchoring systems,” she said.

Severe weather at Bethany Beach, Del. on Aug. 5 blew beach umbrellas into the ocean. (Video: The Washington Post)

Last week, a viral video from Bethany Beach, Del., showed dozens of beach umbrellas flying in the air and tossed into the ocean after a strong thunderstorm with winds up to 40 mph tore them loose.

“This is one of many videos out there where umbrellas go dancing down the beach … because they’re not weighted, they are simply poked into the sand,” Schermerhorn said.

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