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May 9, 2013

Editorial: A fitting beach tribute to Caleigh

Catherine Curcuru, an aunt of little Caleigh Harrison, is right to point out that there’s no way of knowing whether the posting of warning flags would have made any difference on the fateful day in April 2012 that the Gloucester toddler was forever lost to the sea off Rockport’s Long Beach.

Yet, the bill that’s being called “Caleigh’s Law,” now advancing through the state Legislature with a push from both state Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, can certainly raise awareness of beach safety in days when many beachgoers might not recognize the dangers that lurk in the surf in the form of riptides and other hazards. And that, in its own way, would leave a fitting legacy for the 21/2-year-old girl who was lost to her family — indeed, to our entire community — far too soon.

In essence, the legislation would encourage cities and towns along the coast to post a series of colored warning flags — to be called “Caleigh’s flags” — defining for beachgoers the level of danger they might face within feet of the shore.

That may sound familiar, especially to folks in Rockport, which already has and utilizes a flag system. But Rockport, which also faced a drowning tragedy off Front Beach last summer, displays its flags only between July 1 and Labor Day, officials said – and that’s when there are lifeguards patrolling the town’s beaches anyway.

There were no obviously no Long Beach flags signaling the severe riptide warnings that NOAA’s National Weather Service had issued the day that Caleigh tragically disappeared, while the new state bill would call for a year-round flag system.

Look, nothing — absolutely nothing — can force beachgoers to heed warning flags, or to step up their awareness of hazardous surf.

But if this new law becomes reality, perhaps these flags will be used by enough towns so that more beach visitors will note the hazards of the shore. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll also say a prayer for the little girl who, by all counts, was lost to those very dangers.

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