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New York suffers slew of drownings

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NEW YORK (AP) — While their uncle prepared for a carefree day at the beach, three cousins waded into the surf and were dragged into treacherous waters by strong currents. A day later, relatives mourned the death of one girl, while divers searched for two more bodies.

"We're going to get the kids out," said Michael McGinty, one of the divers facing the grim recovery duty on Tuesday. "We owe them that."

Seventy-five miles to the north, two children and their 47-year-old baby sitter drowned Monday where a creek meets the Hudson River in the town of Esopus.

In New York City's Far Rockaway section, the two sisters and their cousin, all from Paterson, N.J., were knee-deep in the Rockaway Inlet on Monday morning when they were swept to sea, near the spot where a mother and her 6-year-old daughter drowned a year ago.

"I just turned my head for a second," said their uncle Mohammed Fahrul Islam, who was on the shore at the time.

Police, fire and Coast Guard teams pulled Rahela Begum, 13, from the water about an hour later, but she died at St. John's Episcopal Hospital.

Detective Madelyne Galindo, a police spokeswoman, said Tuesday morning that efforts to recover the bodies of Shajeda Ahmed, 12, and her sister, Jubeda Ahmed, 16, had resumed.

Members of the tightly knit family grieved at the girls' homes in Paterson and at Islam's house in Elmont.

"Mohammad is traumatized," Islam's brother-in-law, Shahid Akbar. "He's just blaming himself. 'Why did I take those kids to the beach?"'

The girls were visiting Islam and had gone with him and other children for a day of swimming and fishing. The girls, who relatives said were not strong swimmers, went into the water more than an hour before lifeguards were scheduled to begin their 10 a.m. shift, police said.

Islam's son, Rizwan Islam, 11, was swimming with the girls but managed to scramble out of the water while screaming for help.

"It happened so quickly," cousin Veeshan Akbar, 12. "Two seconds, and they were way out."

Islam and others watched in horror as the girls flailed and were swallowed by the water.

Some area residents said afterward that they never let their children go into the water there. Signs on the beach warn against swimming without lifeguards, but do not indicate the currents can be treacherous.

"It's painful to second guess a situation like this," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Tuesday. Giuliani, who visited the scene Monday added: "The signs are pretty clear. They say do not swim unless there is a lifeguard."

"You've got to count on people being aware of the hazards," he said. "You shouldn't swim in the ocean — you shouldn't swim without a lifeguard."

Marc Sennick, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the inlet was particularly dangerous because the calm waters mask a fast-moving current.

In Ulster County, the sheriff's department was trying to determine how baby sitter Susan Comer and her friend's four children wound up in Rondout Creek.

Thomas Rossini and his 11-year-old son heard calls for help and pulled two of the children, ages 6 and 10, out of the water. But the other two children, ages 5 and 8, drowned and Comer died later at a hospital.

The names of the children were being withheld pending notification of relatives.

Sheriff's Department Capt. Harry Van Vliet said the five may have been caught in a tide while walking in the creek.