Anjana Devi, 35, a mother of two, is among the lucky few survivors of the set of lightning strikes that claimed 57 lives in Bihar on Tuesday, taking the toll up to 95 this year.
Devi and her two daughters were in the open verandah enjoying the showers when lightning struck them. She and her younger daughter Sweety, 8, escaped with minor injuries, but her elder daughter Ruchi, 10, did not survive.
While Tuesday’s deaths are perhaps the highest single-day toll for Bihar , in neighbouring Jharkhand lightning has killed 34 people so far this year.
There are several factors that make eastern India a deadly place when lightning strikes. But first, a little know fact: according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which tracks unnatural deaths across the country, lightning kills more people in India than floods, heatstroke, earthquake or cyclone.
The NCRB data claims at least 2,000 deaths were associated with lightning every year since 2005. Yet, it is not classified as a natural calamity. It was only in 2015 that the Centre allowed it to be declared as a state-specific disaster, making affected people or their families eligible for compensation.
“Lightning kills on an average 250 people every year in the state, but under-reporting is common to avoid compensation,” says Nitish Priyadarshi, an environmentalist in Jharkhand.
Both Bihar and Jharkhand pay Rs 4 lakh as compensation for lightning deaths.
The problem with lightning, like earthquakes, is that it cannot be predicted. That makes the task of issuing timely warning more challenging.
“Generally, lightning develops in uneven and hilly areas. This is why eastern parts of India are more prone to lightning,” says BK Mandal, director of the Ranchi Meteorological Centre.
During pre-monsoon or monsoon season, the air coming from sea carries ample moisture. The hilly area creates a hurdle and adds additional heat to it. The air along with moisture rapidly uplifts due to intense heat and other synoptic conditions and develops cumulonimbus cloud, which is a thundery cloud that causes lightning, explains Mandal.