Rescuers brave Hurricane Irma's fury to save manatees

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Photo courtesy Michael Sechler

Hurricane Irma’s winds drained waterways around Tampa Bay late this morning, even though the storm was 200 miles away.  It happened so fast that some manatees were apparently caught off-guard, leading to at least one impromptu rescue.

Jeremy Ziemba of Bradenton told FOX 13 he was north of the Ringling Museum just after 1 p.m. when a group of citizens spotted stranded sea cows and headed into the mud to carry them to deeper water.

Law enforcement joined the rescue effort, then directed everyone inside for their safety.

“It's surreal out here,” he said of the low water levels.

RELATED: Hurricane Irma drains Tampa Bay area waterways

Steven Reisinger posted on Facebook that he, along with Michael Sechler and Donavan Norton, had spotted two stranded manatees in about the same area. They tried but were unable to rescue the animals.

“Believe me, we tried to move them,” he wrote.  “But between [the manatees] weighing over 500 lbs. and being stranded in almost mud-like sand, we couldn't make it happen.”

The team called several local law enforcement agencies in search of help.

And another citizen hero, Marcelo Clavijo was part of the crew who hoisted a manatee to safe waters. In a post on Facebook, he described how he made the discovery, saying he was feeling "stir crazy" so he walked to the bay at the end of Whitfield Avenue. 

The tide, along with the force of the hurricane-driven winds, pulled the water far away from shore, leaving two manatees stranded.  

"With a handful of people and 2 of Manatee's finest that were knee-deep in mud right next to us... we rolled them on the tarp and then dragged them 100 yards," Clavijo said.

"[We] said '1-2-3' and pulled them back to the channel. They both swam off," Clavijo later told FOX 13.

FOX 13 Chief Meteorologist Paul Dellegatto explained that the east winds ahead of Hurricane Irma were blowing water out of the bays along the west coast of Florida.  He said the water would return to normal levels as the storm passed by.