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U.S. lightning fatality death toll for 2019 rises after Indiana man dies in strike

By Alex Clapper, AccuWeather Staff Writer
July 22, 2019, 3:05:31 PM EDT

An Indiana man was struck and killed by lightning on Saturday evening while he and a friend were boating on a lake, authorities said. According to WSBT, Richard Eberhardt, 65, was operating a pontoon boat on Lake of the Woods in Marshall County when a line of strong thunderstorms moved through the area and the two men tried to navigate the boat to shore. Eberhardt was struck, and went into cardiac arrest.

His friend, who was uninjured, began to immediately administer CPR until EMS and fire department personnel arrived. Eberhardt was pronounced dead at the scene.

"In Indiana, storms rolled in from the west and moved into the north-central part of the state around 3 p.m. eastern time on Sunday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Courtney Travis explained. "The storms brought periods of heavy rain all the way through the evening hours; rainfall was heavy enough to reduce visibility to a quarter of a mile."

The death is being investigated and an autopsy was scheduled to take place on Monday. Eberhardt’s death is the ninth lightning-related fatality in the United States this year.

lightning fatality

On Sunday afternoon, eight people were injured by a lightning strike in Florida on a Gulf Coast beach. CBS News reported that Clearwater Beach, about 25 miles south of Tampa, was evacuated on Sunday because of an approaching storm when lightning struck and beachgoers were hit.

One man suffered a direct hit and seven others who were nearby were injured, at least one of whom sustained burns. Five of the eight people were taken to the hospital for their injuries and reportedly three refused treatment. One of the victims who was taken to the hospital was the man who suffered the direct strike. The man, who is in his 40s, according to WFTS, was critically injured, and went into cardiac arrest soon after he was struck.

"It was this big strike. This dude, he got struck by lightning and he fell," Kenijah Everson, who witnessed the strike, told WFTS. After the man was hit, several onlookers rushed to his aide, pulling him and others into a nearby restaurant and out of harm’s way. That act of selflessness earned plaudits from Clearwater Fire Rescue District Chief Greg Newland.

“They put themselves at risk, major thunderstorm going on, lightning popping every couple seconds, and they actually ran out onto the beach and were able to pull the victims into a more safe location," Newland said.

"A southeasterly flow had thunderstorms sparking over central Florida, drifting westward to the Tampa and Clearwater area twice during the afternoon," Travis said.

Multiple people being struck by lightning all at once is not uncommon. Earlier this month in South Carolina, 12 people were struck at a Fourth of July gathering on the banks of the Black River. A 44-year-old man was killed by the strike. And last month, two teenagers who were fishing at a lake outside of Pittsburgh were killed when lightning struck.

Though the odds of being struck by lightning are exceedingly low and going down, according to data gathered and analyzed by the National Weather Service (NWS).

Experts recommend always taking precautions when lightning is in the area, because the odds go up as a storm approaches and knowing the danger is critical to staying safe.

"The threat (of being struck by lightning) arrived when the thunderstorm was within 10 miles," retired National Weather Service lightning safety specialist John Jensenius recently told AccuWeather. Which is why he recommends following a rule of thumb that’s echoed by many meteorologists: "When thunder roars, go indoors."

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