How a single lightning strike can claim many lives
By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
A lightning strike killed at least 16 people and injured approximately 140 others in Rwanda on Saturday, March 10. The bolt struck the Seventh Day Adventist church in the country's south, said a provincial governor.
Cases in which lightning causes multiple fatalities can occur when lightning either strikes the ground or an object on the ground, such as a tree. The energy from that lightning strike radiates outward along the ground.
Therefore, anyone in the immediate vicinity of that lightning strike may be killed or injured by the lightning, according to National Weather Service (NWS) Lightning Safety Specialist John Jensenius.
"It’s not all that frequent in the United States. However, in Africa, it’s actually quite common because many areas don’t have adequate protection," Jensenius said.
Lightning strikes are frequent across Rwanda. The country's police record a number of human and livestock deaths each year.
The number of fatalities in the recent Rwanda incident was unusual but not unprecedented, according to Jensenius.
In June 2011, a lightning strike killed 19 children at a school in Uganda, according to Mail & Guardian.
"Children were on a dirt floor and the lightning spread across the floor. It killed a number of children and also the teacher," Jensenius said.
In the U.S., events of this nature are less common because the homes and buildings have wiring and plumbing in them. Therefore, if lightning strikes a home or a building, it will follow the wiring or plumbing to the ground, according to Jensenius.
"In Uganda and some of the other African countries, many people live in huts or homes that don’t have any wiring or plumbing. So if lightning strikes those homes, it doesn’t have a path to follow to the ground," Jensenius said.
7 lightning safety tips if you’re caught outside during a thunderstorm
Lightning kills: Which outdoor activity ranks no. 1 for fatal strikes?
What happens when the body is struck by lightning?
While these events are rare in the U.S., there is a possibility of it happening if proper lightning safety precautions are not followed. For example, in events where people gather in unsafe structures, such as in an outdoor tent for a wedding or a reunion.
"There is a possibility that if lightning were to strike the tent or nearby, there could be a large number of people killed or seriously injured by a lightning strike," Jensenius said.
While it is a concern in the U.S., the likelihood of that happening is rare because there are often safe buildings nearby so most people are inside where it is safe.
"If you’re outside at some kind of outdoor event, just simply go in your car and stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last clasp of thunder," Jensenius said.
The best way to avoid these deadly events is to go inside a substantial, safe building during a storm.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - January 19, 2019, 1:19:39 AM EST
A winter storm is gaining strength over the Midwest and will clobber the Northeast into Sunday with significant, widespread impacts.
Weather News - January 18, 2019, 6:54:47 PM EST
The storm is expected to deliver snow accumulations that could be the largest snowfall of the season in some places.
Weather News - January 18, 2019, 2:18:00 PM EST
As earthquakes shake regions and cause massive, unpredictable destruction, an early warning system that provides a precious few seconds of alert can be a matter of life and death.
State of emergency declared in Pennsylvania, New Jersey as Midwest, Northeast rush to finalize snowstorm preparations
Weather News - January 18, 2019, 9:05:55 PM EST
A major snowstorm is moving through the Midwest into the Northeast through this weekend, dumping mass amounts of snow and creating treacherous travel. Local officials warn communities to prepare ahead of the dangerous winter storm.
Blizzard to dish out up to 40 inches of snow in northeastern US as dangerous ice storm takes aim farther south
Weather News - January 18, 2019, 4:30:57 PM EST
A storm with feet of snow, blizzard conditions, a significant build-up of ice, tree-breaking winds and plunging temperatures will close roads, cause flight cancellations and disrupt daily activities over a large part of the northeastern United States this weekend.
Outdoor ice skating rinks aren’t just limited to colder climates that are all too familiar with blizzards and below-freezing conditions.
Weather News - January 18, 2019, 10:36:27 AM EST
A turn to more comfortable weather this weekend will not hold through the second week of the Australian Open in Melbourne, with more hot days ahead.
Weather News - January 18, 2019, 10:05:24 AM EST
Residents across Europe will be treated to a lunar eclipse right before the moon sets late Sunday night, where the weather cooperates.