News / South Africa / Weather
Weather experts warned about the deadly power of lightning after the recent severe thunderstorms across the country.
A Gauteng woman who lost her 48-year-old son when he was struck by lightning last year, agreed to speak anonymously.
“A year ago my son promised to take his 11-year-old boy fishing at a lake close to home,” she said.
She said her grandson still caught a fish and her son sent that photo to his wife minutes before the tragedy.
“He was up to his hips in the water and then the lightning struck and it was a direct hit into his heart chamber. The paramedics declared him dead on the scene,” she said.
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General practitioner Dr Leon Odendaal said he has only treated one person struck by lightning, many years ago.
“The guy had a massive water blister on his heel, but like a first-degree burn,” Odendaal said.
He said besides that the patient seemed to be fine. According to Prof Ryan Blumenthal, a senior specialist forensic pathologist at the University of Pretoria, less than 5% of victims are struck by the lightning bolt itself.
“A direct lightning strike is probably one of the quickest deaths anyone could have. The victim is injected with millions of amps and billions of volts and will not see it, hear it or even feel it.”
Blumenthal said most lightning deaths or injuries were caused by indirect lightning: touch potential, side flash, step voltages, upward streamers, and blast waves (barotrauma).
“Touch potential accounts for 15% to 25% of casualties. This occurs when lightning travels through a metallic object and a person touches the metal object.”
It might be a corded telephone or a television set. In side flashes high voltage passes through a tall object such as a tree or pole, then discharges into a person standing close by, accounting for about 20% to 30% of casualties.
Upward streamers account for 10% to 15% of the injuries and deaths.
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“Currents can rise through a person’s body towards the sky, before the charge collapses back to earth,” he said.
Shock waves (barotrauma) can occur when a person is very close to the point of the strike. Blumenthal added animals could be injured by step voltages produced by a lightning current flowing through the soil.