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How does sand collapse? Making sense of tragic teen death on Jersey Shore – New York Post

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A sand collapse that killed one teenager and injured another on the Jersey Shore has brought renewed attention to a danger lurking on beaches that is reportedly deadlier than shark attacks.
Levi Cavelry, 18, was killed and his 17-year-old sister hurt when the hole they were digging in the sand collapsed in on them at Ocean Beach in Tom’s River Tuesday.
Many were left wondering how a sand collapse can happen — but life-and-death situations are more common than most people realize, said Tom Gill, a spokesman for the United States Lifesaving Association, whose membership includes lifeguards and water rescuers.
“People get excited and don’t realize the danger they’re putting themselves in,” Gill told The Post.
Collapses can happen unexpectedly as sand under the surface dries – leaving rescuers with precious minutes to rescue someone as pressure piles up.
“It happens as people are digging in a completely nonstable environment,” Gill said. “Sand is not meant to stay in one place and it will not hold.”
Holes dug in sand are more susceptible to collapse with grains similar to tiny marbles stacked on each other, an expert explained to Delmarva Now in a 2017 explainer on the issue.
“Think of it like a sandcastle, where if you add a little water to the sand, you can achieve even a 90-degree angle,” Stephen Van Ryswick, chief of the Coastal and Environmental Geology Program at the Maryland Geology Survey told the paper.
“The water holds it together. However, too much water is going to liquefy it. If you add a bucket of water to the castle, it’s all going to slump away.”
The sand walls become brittle as the grains dry, and can quickly trap someone and put them under pressure equal to a 13-15-year-old boy standing on your torso, according to the publication.
Rescuers trying to dig out someone trapped have to deal with shifting sand.
There seems to be little comprehensive data on sand collapse deaths, but there were at least 16 sand collapse deaths in the US from 1990-2006 compared to 12 fatal shark attacks for the same period, according to data from the University of Florida. A Harvard Medical School professor documented 52 incidents of people buried in sand collapses and 31 cases where people died between 1997 and 2007, according to NBC Washington.
Between 2007 and 2017, Dr. Bradley Ramon told the outlet he had heard of another 25 instances.
Cavelry’s death came just three days after a 13-year-old Utah boy was killed in an apparent sand dune collapse. Young Ian Spendlove died after he was trapped in a collapsed hole he was digging in Coral Punk Sand Dunes State Park.
Other recent incidents include a 35-year-old man who died in 2018 from injuries sustained while digging a tunnel through a sand dune on a Florida beach. . The same year, a 12-year-old Boy Scout died when a sand dune collapsed on him while digging in Michigan.
With Post wires
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