Lightning strikes in MP: At the wrong place at the wrong time

  • Neeraj Santoshi, Hindustan Times, Bhopal
  • Updated: Jul 05, 2016 18:22 IST
Nearly 1,500 to 2,000 people die every year due to lightning-related incidents across the state. (HT photo)

Nearly 60 people, including 17 on Friday, have died in lightning-related incidents in the past one month or so in Madhya Pradesh. This has raised questions why so many people in the state were becoming victims of lightning and what can be done to minimise it.

Nearly 1,500 to 2,000 people die every year due to lightning-related incidents across the state, officials said.

According to experts, centrally located Madhya Pradesh is the country’s one of the safest areas when it comes to natural disasters. But over the years, a significant number of people have died due to lightning in the state primarily due to lack of basic awareness about lightning. They said the people make wrong choices during thunderstorms due to lack of awareness.

Most of the fatalities include people working in the agricultural fields in rural areas, children playing in grounds and people taking shelter under a tree or near a tall structure.

HT spoke to experts and scanned documents on the issue to come up with a list of measures people should take to avoid getting hit by lightning. Rakesh Dubey, the director of Disaster Management Institute in Bhopal, said lightning and thunderstorms mainly occur in the pre-monsoon period from March to June, but many areas in the state also get thunderstorms during the monsoon season from June to September.

“Though lightning depends on many factors like ground elevation, latitude, prevailing wind current, relative humidity, proximity to warm and cold bodies of water, some experts have claimed that presence of metallic minerals in a region also attracts lightnings. This is the likely reason why so many lightnings strike Bihar and Jharkhand and many parts of MP. But this factor needs further research,” he said.

Dubey said though nobody was safe from lightning, some basic precautions and general awareness about the lightning can save a lot of lives. “A simple precaution like one should not work in an open field or take shelter under a tree can save many lives,” he said.

The figure of lightning deaths this year in the state could be higher as all deaths are not reported in the far flung areas.

Maithili Sharan Gupt, director general of Home Guards and State Disaster Response Force, told HT that annually 1,500 to 2,000 people die due to lightning strikes in the state.

“This is quite a big number. But I feel the actual figure must be even more as reported deaths due to lightning incidents are generally provided by the police. There must be many cases in far flung areas where deaths due to lightning incidents are not reported.”

“If someone is injured in lightning, people attending him or her should call our emergency number 1079 for help,” he said.

During lightning, even heritage structures are not safe. In June last year, lightning struck the World Heritage site at Khajuraho, damaging top part of Devi Jagadambika temple and injuring a 17-year-girl.

Deaths from skies

July 1, 2016: 17 people killed when struck by lightning in various parts of Madhya Pradesh

March 16-17, 2015: Lightning in Bhind and Gwalior kills 6 people

March 17, 2013: 12 people killed in lightning strikes, including five in Sagar district

April 19, 2103: 6 people killed and nine injured by lightning. The dead include four people within a temple’s on the occasion of Ramnavami

July 6, 2012: 14 people killed, including a 12-year-old girl under a tree in Sagar

July 31, 2010: Lightning kills 6. Godman Baba Maru Yadav and his two disciples are killed and three other injured when his Ashram is struck by lightning at Pipariya village

How lightning strikes

During a storm, particles of rain, ice, or snow collide, increasing the electric imbalance and negatively charging the lower parts of clouds. This gathering of negative charge repels electrons at the surface of earth deeper into the ground, causing the surface to become positively charged. This charge separation creates huge potential difference between the cloud and ground. With millions of volts of worth charge separation (potential difference), the electrical resistance in the air breaks down and lightning strikes the ground.

Dos and Don'ts

The probability of an average person being struck by lightning in a year is around one in ten lakh, according to experts. Some basic precautions can minimize the chance of getting hit by a lightning.

Lightning often precedes rain. So one should not wait for rain to start before thinking about security

If you are outdoors, avoid higher elevations, get out of the open fields, get away from tall isolated objects or trees. Also, get away from water

Lightning can strike the same place twice and can spread out nearly 20 metres after striking the ground

Avoid all metal objects like electric wires, fences, machinery, metallic poles, pipes

Find shelter in a building or in a fully enclosed vehicle with windows completely shut

Avoid water-related activities and touching pipes and taps. Avoid taking bath during thunderstorms and lightning

If lightning is striking nearby, crouch down, put your feet together and place hands over ears to minimise hearing damage

Do not lie down as it increases your area within the charged field

If indoors, avoid water and stay away from appliances as lightning may strike outside and travel inside through a wire or pipe, inducing shocks

When lightning is about to strike, your hair will stand-up on end, or your skin will tingle, or light metal objects will vibrate, or you’ll hear a crackling sound

If you are in a group or in your family, spread out so that even if one is hit, others could be there to help and rush injured to a nearby hospital.

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