Six Very Short Tales of People Actually Struck by Lightening (& How to Prevent it Happening to You)
While the idea of actually being struck by lightning sounds
about as likely as winning the lottery, it does happen.
In fact, about 73 people are killed by lightning every year
-- that's more than are killed by tornadoes or hurricanes
-- and an estimated 400 are struck and survive, according
to the American Red Cross (though this number may be low because
officials believe many events are not reported). Getting struck
by lightning is no laughing matter -- a bolt can reach temperatures
of nearly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lightning strikes the earth an average of 100 times
per second, or 8.6 million times a day, according to
the American Red Cross.
Those who have been injured by lightning and are lucky enough
to survive may have permanent injuries including memory loss,
attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness,
joint stiffness, weakness and depression.
Just how often does lightning strike? Weather officials say
the United States receives up to 20 million cloud-to-ground
lightning strikes per year.
"Many people believe that lightning is infrequent and
that it's not a significant risk, which is very misleading,"
said Rocky Lopes, senior associate for disaster education
at the American Red Cross.
The people in the six tales below would probably agree, as
they have actually been struck by lightning -- and lived to
tell about it.
1. Gold Crucifix and Chain Melted Around His Neck
Jason Crawford, 31, was riding a dirt bike in Gunnison County,
Colorado when it started sprinkling lightly and a lightning
bolt struck him out of the blue. The strike caused him to
do a back flip off his bike and twist in the air before landing
on the ground.
The strike melted a part of his bike helmet, fractured his
skull and left burn scars on his chest and arm. A gold chain
and crucifix he wore around his neck also melted, leaving
the pattern of a rope burned into his skin. According to doctors,
if Crawford had not been wearing the helmet, he probably would
2. Struck by Lightning in Her Own Kitchen
Lightning struck Elizabeth Mena while she was cooking in
her Lebanon, Pennsylvania home. She was standing near the
back door when the lightning came through the door, throwing
her against the stove.
An ambulance was called, but her injuries were not serious
enough to need hospital treatment.
Jason Crawford was struck by lightning, causing burn
scars, a fractured skull and a gold chain and crucifix
to melt around his neck.
"I'm not going in my kitchen for a while," Mena
3. Teen Talking on a Cell Phone
A 15-year-old girl was talking on a cell phone in a London
park during a storm when lightning struck her. The girl has
no memory of the incident, but she had a cardiac arrest and
required resuscitation. A year later, the girl must use a
wheelchair and has severe physical difficulties, brain damage
and emotional and cognitive problems. She also has a burst
eardrum in the ear where she was holding the phone, along
with hearing loss.
According to researchers in the British Medical Journal,
the metal in a cell phone causes the lightning current to
go into the body, causing even more severe injuries.
4. Struck by Lightning Seven Times
Park ranger Roy Sullivan holds the record for being struck
by lightning, according to the Guiness Book of World Records.
From 1942 to 1977, he was struck seven times, earning him
the nickname "human lightning conductor," along
with various injuries to his arms, legs, chest and stomach.
Due to the lightning strikes, Sullivan had also lost his big
toe nail and had his hair set alight and his eyebrows burned
5. 2.5-Inch Exit Wound on Right Foot
Two teens, Zach O'Neal, 15, and Ernie Elbert, 16, were struck
by lightning while hiking in southern Colorado. The bolt entered
O'Neal near his right eye with enough force to blow his shoes
10 feet away. Some of the current exited through his head,
but most of it went out of his feet, causing a 2.5-inch exit
wound on his right foot. He also suffered a ruptured eardrum.
Elbert, who initially couldn't feel his legs after the strike,
was able to perform CPR on his friend. The strike was strong
enough to also shred their clothing and cause surface burns.
The teens were rescued by a helicopter and are expected to
make full recoveries.
6. Realized He Was Struck Five Hours Later
Alistair Fellows, 43, from the UK, was struck by lightning
after he got out of his van during a storm -- but he didn't
realize it until hours later. Fellows didn't feel anything
at the time, but his arm swelled up five hours later, and
his wife noticed a mark on his arm. He also had slight problems
with his hearing and sight.
"There was a flash, and the thunder and lightning came
at the same time. I didn't realize anything had happened until
a bit later on," Fellows said.
Keys to Avoid a Lightning Strike
Many injuries from lightning strikes can be prevented by
knowing what to do during stormy weather.
"If you hear thunder, you are in danger from lightning,"
Lopes says. "Thunder means that lightning is close enough
that it could hit your location at any minute, so you should
immediately move indoors or into a hard-topped vehicle and
stay there until after the lightning storm ends. The single
most important thing to remember is to seek shelter."
You should also:
Avoid tall, isolated objects (such as trees)
Avoid metal objects like wire fences and golf clubs
Avoid using your cell phone outdoors during a storm
Avoid rivers, lakes and streams
Avoid electronics, including telephones and TV sets,
as the wires can transmit the lightning
Avoid bathtubs, water faucets and sinks because metal
pipes conduct electricity
Finally, if you're in a field and your hair stands on end,
it means lightning is about to strike. You should lean forward
with your hands on your knees and crouch (don't lie flat on
the ground). If you're stuck in the woods, your best bet is
to seek shelter under a low clump of trees.
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