Monday, July 12, 2010

Fatal lightning

Lightning striking the tower as Endeavour sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 10, 2009. The planned launch the following day was cancelled assess the space shuttle for possible damage from the nearby lightning strikes.

Not only do I live in the state with the shark attack capital of the world, Florida is also the lightning capital of the United States. With 449 fatalities from 1959-2007, Florida is more than twice as deadly as the 2nd state in the list. Many of the victims are tourists, like Frank Paxton, 54, of Oklahoma, killed on Melbourne Beach in July 2009. Ironically, Floridian firefighter Bill Carr, 53, died after a bolt of lightning struck the motorcycle he was riding while visiting Colorado - the 8th deadliest state for lightning strikes - in June 2010. No matter the state, lightning deaths are always a dramatic way to go. Richard Butler was about to propose to his girlfriend Bethany Lott, 25, as they were hiking in the mountains of North Carolina, the 4th state on the list, last month. "God baby, look at it. Isn't it beautiful?" said Bethany about the view, seconds before she was struck and could not be revived. The bolt that killed Bethany spared Richard, but lightning also has the power to take out a crowd. In October 2008, it was an entire herd of cows in Valdez Chico, Uruguay. This summer, 9 visitors to Yellowstone National Park in Montana were awaiting the eruption of the Old Faithful geyser when they were collectively struck - but luckily not fatally - by lightning.

But the strangest true story about lightning that I know took place in October 1998 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which just happens to be home to the lightning capitol of the world. Two teams were playing soccer in the eastern province of Kasai and the score was tied 1-1. Suddenly, the members of the visiting team were struck down and all 11 players were killed. The home team was unharmed, so rumors swirled that they had practiced witchcraft on their opponents. In fact, the lightning that killed the young men had been drawn to the metal cleats on their shoes. The home team of Basenga wore shoes with rubber cleats and were spared.

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