Beach Closed, but Visitors Don't Know It

Dozens of people, including several children, were playing in the water in the very section the Department of Environmental Quality closed on Friday because of high levels of fecal coliform, a bacteria found in sewage.

A few signs warning people not to swim could be found near the water, but beachgoers said the signs were so far away, they never saw them.

"I can't see any," Linda Hullum, a visitor from Memphis, said. "Where you said? No, I can't see a sign."

Members from Hullum's group asked a Harrison County deputy patrolling the beach about the contamination.

He said, "See, that's the thing. I'm not even sure what's contaminated down here. I don't know."

Several people decided to leave the beach after we pointed out the signs.

"I don't want to go home sick or get sick when I get home not knowing where I got it from," Missouri tourist Bob Butler said.

State health officials say there's really no way to tell if people have been getting sick from swimming in contaminated water. They say, if people are getting sick, many of them are likely treating themselves at home and if they do go to the emergency room, they wouldn't have the types of diseases that the emergency rooms would be required to report to the health department.

"We don't live here, so there's no way that we would know and I think there should be signs at each point of entries into the beach," Trena Wray said.

Wray also blamed the beach vendor in that area for not telling them about the contamination, even while they rented them jet skis and chairs. The owner of the stand questioned how dangerous the situation really was. He said if the beach was that dangerous, the county would shut his business down.

Harrison County Sand Beach Director Bobby Weaver said Sunday that he'd tell crews to put up more signs, in more visible places and better inform the Sheriff's Department about beach closings.

Health Department officials say swimming in water contaminated with fecal coliform increases the chance of developing illnesses like Hepatitis A and ear infections. They say children and the elderly are most susceptible. Health officials say if you are exposed, you should wash thoroughly with soap.