Three people have died and one other was critically wounded after lightning struck them near the White House Thursday night.
James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, of Janesville, Wisconsin, died overnight at the hospital.
A third individual, a 29-year-old man whose name has not been released while police attempt to notify his family, died Friday afternoon, per The Washington Post.
The lightning strike occurred just before 7 p.m. and hit Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the White House, Vito Maggiolo, a spokesperson for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said in a news conference Thursday evening.
Maggiolo said members of the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police arrived immediately to try to render aid. According to Fox 5 DC, they used both CPR and deployed an automatic electronic defibrillator; the four victims were all unconscious when they arrived.
“What I want to do is thank them because their agents, their officers witnessed this lightning strike and immediately began to render aid to the four victims which is very critical in helping with survivability,” Maggiolo said.
The New York Times reported that the fourth lightning victim has been identified only as an adult from the West Coast. The individual remains in critical condition.
The four had been sheltering among trees during a thunderstorm.
“Trees are not safe places,” Maggiolo said. “Anybody that goes to seek shelter under a tree, that’s a very dangerous place to be.”
A witness to the lightning strike described it to The Washington Post as “massive. It shook the whole area. Literally like a bomb went off, that’s how it sounded.”
Per The Washington Post, “Chris Vagasky, an analyst for Vaisala, which operates a national lightning network, said in a message that there was a ‘6 stroke flash near the White House that hit the same point on the ground’ at 6:49 p.m. He explained that means six individual surges of electricity hit the same point on the ground within half a second.”
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones, and we are praying for those still fighting for their lives.”
Prior to the deaths in Washington, D.C., this week, there had been nine fatalities from lightning in the United States so far this year: two in Georgia and one each in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio and Wyoming, according to the National Weather Service.
Lightning strikes the ground in the U.S. about 25 million times a year, according to the National Weather Service. On average, strikes kill 23 people in the U.S. each year. Hundreds are injured each year by lightning.
The sheer number of strikes means the chance of being killed is less than 1 in a million, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The public health agency notes that 90% of those who are struck survive, but since 2006, 444 people have died from lightning strikes. In seven of the last 10 years, at least 20 people were killed by lightning, including 40 in 2016.
The agency notes that males are four times more apt than females to be struck by lightning and the average age of victims is 37.
Surprisingly, one-third of lightning injuries actually happen indoors.
“Florida is considered the ‘lightning capital’ of the country, with more than 2,000 lightning injuries” over the past half-century, according to the CDC, which says the Rocky Mountain region also gets a lot of thunderstorms.
The National Weather Service offers these safety tips in thunderstorms:
- If possible, go indoors.
- Avoid open areas.
- Don’t be the tallest object in the area.
- Stay away from isolated tall trees, towers or utility poles. Lightning often hits the taller object around.
- Avoid metal conductors such as wires or fences. Metal doesn’t attract lightning, but lightning can travel long distances through it.
- If you are with a group of people, spread out. That increases the chance someone might get struck, but tends to prevent multiple casualties, and improves the likelihood that someone could help if a person is struck.
This article has been updated to report the death of the third victim on Friday afternoon.