Share this article:
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.
While stress can become a problem for any healthy adult, medical experts say stress is particularly dangerous for people who suffer from heart disease.
Much cooler and less humid air is forecast to make its way into the Deep South, including Michael-slammed areas of Florida and Georgia this weekend, before the potential for heavy rain later next week.
Despite Tropical Rainstorm Tara weakening, Mexico remains on high alert as a new tropical threat is expected to develop in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Peak oyster season is right around the corner, starting in November, however the recent destruction of Hurricane Michael is impacting aquaculture farms in Florida.
Cloud-free conditions will allow much of the United States to see this weekend’s Orionid meteor shower, the first major shower of the fall.
The upcoming winter across Europe will feature damaging windstorms, flooding rainfall and unseasonable warmth.
Areas of Texas that have been inundated with flooding downpours since last week will face more heavy rainfall before a needed reprieve this weekend.
A dangerous flooding situation unfolded in south-central Texas Tuesday morning near the town of Llano, as heavy rain exacerbated ongoing river flooding, prompting evacuations and a bridge collapse.