10 Struck by Lightning at Soccer Game

On average, 62 Americans are fatally struck every year. Find out how to be safe.

October 3, 2008, 8:13 PM

July 21, 2008 — -- It may seem as if some Zeus-like creature is hurling real thunderbolts these days. At least 17 people have been struck by lightning so far this month, and seven of those people have died.

The latest incident occurred about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, when 10 people abandoned a soccer game in Dorchester, Mass., and huddled beneath a tall tree to escape the rain.

When lightning struck the tree moments later, all 10 collapsed to the ground.

"You could see the light coming from the top and going down to the floor and that's it," said Bianca Diray, who saw the strike. "The people didn't have time to scream. They went down to the floor. Everybody went down to the floor."

All 10 survived the lightning bolt, but one person suffered a cardiac arrest and seven remain hospitalized.

"I've never seen in 35 years of experience 10 people struck by one instance of lightning. It's very often an overlooked threat," Boston EMS Chief Rich Serino told ABCNews.com.

Just days before Sunday's lightning strike, two people were killed in Maine when they stepped out of their house during a thunderstorm.

On July 3, a 16-year-old was killed by lightning while riding a bicycle at a Colorado summer camp. Three more teenagers and a young woman were killed the following week after being struck. Those deaths occurred in North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia.

People who are struck by lightning can experience a wide range of injuries, from burns and heart attacks to damage to internal organs, Serino said.

"You tend to see people with numbness to extremities. It's a pretty common injury to have in an electrical storm," he said.

According to the National Weather Service, the United States averages about 62 lightning deaths a year, and incidences of lightning strikes ramp up during the summer, Serino said. "This is the time of year that it is most prevalent for lightning to occur," he said. "If people can hear thunder that means they're within striking distance. … Have a plan in place and do not take shelter under tall objects."

Serino stressed the importance for little league coaches in particular to have an alternate place for players and fans to go during a storm.

"A dugout is not a good place," Serino said.

Having that plan, according to University of Oklahoma atmospheric physics professor William Beasley, is essential.

"[A lightning strike] is not as common as the attention it gets would have you believe. It's always spectacular and much of [the injury] is unnecessary if people know the rules," he said.

One of those hard and fast rules, according to Beasley and other experts, is avoiding tall trees.

"The last place you want to be is under a tree," Beasley said.

Trees are dangerous for two reasons, according to Beasley. First, lightning can jump off trees and strike people. Second, some trees may explode when lightning strikes them, impaling people standing near them.

The best place to be during a storm is a car and "it's not because of rubber tires," he said.

If lightning strikes a car or any enclosed metal structure, the electric current created by the lightning flies around it, not affecting the person – or things – inside.

"It's the safest place to be," he said.

If lightning strikes in an open field, it could help to squat on one leg, Martin Uman, a University of Florida professor and lightning expert, told 20/20.

If both feet are on the ground "then the lightning is liable to go up one leg and down the other," Uman said. "The current will go through your body and maybe through your heart and that's dangerous."

Neither stance will help if the lightning strikes you directly.

"The best thing is to get off the field," he said.

And the old adage about staying off the phone during a thunderstorm probably doesn't apply to most modern-day devices. Only corded phones pose a problem. "If the telephone doesn't have any wires, it's a portable phone, it's OK," Uman said. "Watching the TV is always OK."

Patrick McMenamin and Andrew Sullivan contributed to this report.

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