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‘When thunder roars, go indoors:’ how to stay safe when lightning strikes

Published: Jun. 13, 2021 at 6:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - A 15-year-old girl died Saturday after being struck by lightning while in the water off Tybee Island. Police received a call around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday about someone being struck by lightning while swimming near 17th Street, according to the Tybee Island Police Department. Tybee Island Fire Department performed CPR before she was taken to a hospital. Tybee Island Police say the girl and her family were visiting from Alabama.

WTOC spoke with emergency service personnel about ways people can stay safe while swimming or boating when a storm rolls through.

“When you see the storm coming, when you hear the thunder, start heading in,” said Chuck Kearns, CEO of Chatham Emergency Services.

Kearns says there are several things you should remember if you’re outside during a thunderstorm.

“The federal government has a mnemonic and it says ‘when thunder roars, get indoors.’ And if you’re outside, if you’re around water, get away from the water, get out of the water, get off of the beach or wide open areas out in a grassy field,” he said.

Kearns says you never want to take cover under a single tree or under any objects that conduct electricity. He says the best thing to do is to get inside of a house, business or car. However, sometimes these options aren’t always available.

“If you’re outside and you just can’t get to safety and you notice the hair on your arm starts to stand up, crouch down low, tuck your head, put your hands over your ears and try to just have the smallest contact between your body and the earth,” he said.

If you’re in a group, Kearns says to separate and then crouch down. Kearns has recommendations if you find yourself on a boat and caught in a storm.

“The federal government recommends that you drop anchor, lower all your antennas, fishing poles, all the tall items. If it’s an open boat, crouch down in the middle of the boat. If there’s a cabin on the boat, get inside the cabin,” he said.

Kearns reminds boaters that if an emergency does occur during a storm, do not use the VHF radio mounted to the boat. Instead, use a handheld radio. Unless, of course, it’s a life or death situation.

“Never swim alone and if you’re out on a boat, it is Georgia law that children under 13 must wear a PFD [personal floatation device] at all times,” he said.

Kearns says the best thing to do is to always be prepared for any scenario while heading out on the beach or boating this summer.

According to the National Lightning Safety Council, this was the second lightning fatality of 2021. A 70-year-old man died while golfing in New Jersey on Wednesday, June 9. Last year there were a total of 17 deaths in the U.S. due to lightning.

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