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Beach lovers defy 'high bacteria' warnings

Gil Langois swims with the bacteria.

The 32-year-old tourist from Quebec was among dozens seen this week wading along south Broward beaches despite warnings of high bacteria levels in the water.

Like many other beachgoers who were at Hollywood's beach at Custer Street, Langois didn't know about the conditions despite the "swim at your own risk" signs posted on a nearby lifeguard stand.

And like many other tourists who later learned of the warnings, he didn't mind floating among the bacteria.

"Not too concerned," said Langois. "It's really hot out here. What are we supposed to do?"

The Broward County Health Department on Friday declared all the beaches safe for swimming, after seeing the latest water testing results.

Advisories against swimming have been on-again, off-again throughout parts of southern Hollywood beach and parts of Hallandale Beach since July 15, when the first warning was issued.

Water samplings in the area revealed unsafe levels of bacteria that could cause swimming-related gastroenterities, also known as the stomach flu.

Health officials say different factors may be at play behind the recent high-levels of bacteria. They point to the recent heavy rainstorms, which produce runoff into area waterways.

"It could be something as simple as many birds congregating in the area," said Raymond Rammo, a health department administrator.

The advisories couldn't have come at a worse time for the tourist businesses in Hollywood, many of which are still dealing with foreign tourists' fears over the Gulf oil spill reaching South Florida.

Summer is also the slowest period for the beach area, and the hurricane season makes it worse, said Debra Case, president of the Hollywood Beach Business Association.

"We have some hotels that have been inundated with calls about future reservations," Case said. "We've been trying to get an education campaign that says these are short-term issues and not long term."

At the Marriott Hollywood Beach, officials have been informing guests about the bacteria, even though the hotel is about two miles north of the recently affected area.

"We are booked solid this weekend," said general manager Josh Morris. "We do have a lot more people in the pool area though."

Gail Calvin, 43, who is on vacation this week from West Virginia, was dipping her feet in the water earlier this week off Minnesota Street, where a red flag waved behind a lifeguard stand and next to an advisory sign.

She ignored the warnings.

"I don't get to do this very much," she said. "I think I can survive a stomach ache."

Staff Writer Ihosvani Rodriguez can be reached at ijrodriguez@SunSentinel.com or 954-802-9622.

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