An emergency operation was launched yesterday after dozens of sun-seekers became trapped by the rising tide after a popular bridge in Moray was sealed off on safety grounds.
The closure of the East Beach crossing in Lossiemouth has left the coastal community deserted and businesses “devastated” on what was one of the hottest days of the year.
Beach-goers resorted to wading through the river, some with dogs in arms and with buggies above their heads, in an effort to get to the usually popular sands.
Lifeboat crews and the Coastguard were then called at about 5pm last night after about 50 people, mainly teenagers, became stuck on the wrong side of the river.
Emergency crews carried the youths to shore, either in the rescue craft or escorted slowly across the bridge in groups of two.
Just hours earlier locals warned of the looming crisis as they watched hundreds of people take to the beach despite the rising tide.
Mike Mulholland, chairman of Lossiemouth Community Council, said: “It can’t be allowed to continue like this. We can’t stand here all the time and make sure people are alright.
“While I’ve been standing here watching the lifeboat I’ve seen another couple swim across the river. It’s just madness, they’ve got no idea what the conditions will be like later.”
Moray Council shut the troubled crossing on Tuesday evening amid reports it was “unstable” and could be seen “leaning to one side”.
During an evacuation of the beach that day, where people used the bridge in small numbers, engineers heard a “ping” before seeing a piece of steelwork plunge into the water. That caused the structure to drop.
Meanwhile, businesses have been counting the cost as takings plummeted as the temperature on the coast soared to 28C.
Surveys undertaken by Lossiemouth Community Development Trust, which is campaigning to fund a replacement crossing, counted 3,500 people using the bridge on Tuesday – sparking concerns the structure has buckled due to the weight of its own popularity.
Yesterday, one business owner on the waterfront likened the beach at 2pm to how it should look at 7am and said the town was “10 times busier” at the same time earlier in the week.
Brenda McGregor, who works at the Firth Hotel, said: “It’s absolutely awful for us all.
“We have been absolutely heaving all week thanks to the sun and now it’s just all gone.
“It’s not just us though. Usually the ice cream shops are queued out the door with people but I can guarantee they won’t have anything like that now. We’re all devastated.”
The New Wave Surf School, which is based next to the bridge, regularly takes groups of youngsters across the bridge to learn to master the Moray Firth waves.
Owner Donald Peace said: “We can still paddle across but the tides can be strong. People have been wading over without knowing what the tide times are.
“It needs to be fixed, at least temporarily, because, for sure, people are going to get stranded over there.”
Last night, the Coastguard warned people not to wade across the river to get access to the beach.
A spokesman said: “At low water you may be able to see the river bed but the tide will make it a lot deeper and it may not be possible to see what is below once it starts to come back in.
“There are also known to be strong currents in the area and even a small amount of rainfall inland can significantly increase the speed of the river.”