Be Smart When It Comes to Lightning

Simple precautions can save your life

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SATURDAY, May 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Play it safe when it comes to lightning.

During the past 30 years, lightning has killed an average of 73 people and injured about 300 annually in the United States, the National Weather Service says.

Lighting is the second leading storm killer in the United States (floods are the first), and claims more lives than tornadoes.

About 10 percent of people struck by lightning are killed. But survivors of strikes often suffer life-long injury and disability, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI).

If you're outside and you hear thunder, you're already in danger of being struck by lightning, even if it's not raining or you can't see storm clouds.

Don't hesitate to find proper shelter. The best shelter against lightning is a large, fully enclosed, substantial building such as a house, school, library or other public building. A substantial building refers to one with wiring and plumbing in the walls.

If you can't make it to a substantial building, a vehicle with a solid metal roof and sides is a second choice for protection. Convertibles, vehicles with plastic or fiberglass shells, and open-framed vehicles aren't good shelters, the NLSI says.

If you're caught far from any kind of substantial shelter, find the safest possible location. Move off higher elevations. Get away from open fields, tall isolated objects such as trees or towers, and avoid water.

Sometimes, there are a few seconds of warning before lightning strikes. Your hair may stand on end, your skin may tingle, light metal objects may vibrate, or you may hear a crackling or "kee-kee" sound, the NLSI says.

If you detect any of these warning signs and you're in a group, spread yourselves out so there are several body lengths between each person. That way, if a person is struck by lightning, others may avoid being hit and be able to provide first aid to the victim.

When your group spreads out, each person should be in what's called the "lightning crouch." Put your feet together, squat down, tuck your head and cover your ears.

If someone is struck by lightning, start CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If possible, move yourself and the victim to a safer location.

Lightning victims are not electrified, so it's perfectly safe to touch them and start first aid immediately. Call 911 as soon as possible.

More information

The U.S. National Weather Service has more about lightning safety.

SOURCE: National Lightning Safety Institute

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