A strong tornado that hit Washington this Thursday has claimed three lives as lightning struck very close to the White House in the heart of the capital. James Mueller, 76, his wife, Donna Mueller, 75, both from Wisconsin, and a 29-year-old man, whose identity has not been released, were also dead on Friday, police said. Another woman, who was struck by the current, is in critical condition.
The deaths occurred in Lafayette Square, the tree-lined square open to the public next to the White House complex, a pedestrian crossing in that section, across Pennsylvania Avenue. It is a place that thousands of residents and activists of Washington and tourists from around the world pass every day.
Secret Service members were among the first to care for the victims, which were near the center of the square. Emergency services were deployed in the area and four victims, alive but in critical condition, were shifted to a hospital.
Civil Defense services began warnings for much of the afternoon due to the risk of flooding, wind and lightning storms after a very hot day in the federal capital and across the region. It was raining heavily and lightning was falling continuously. The one that reached the victims collapsed shortly before 7:00 p.m. (01:00 a.m. local time, in mainland Spain). All four of them had taken shelter under a tree from the rain. “Tree is not a safe place. It is a very dangerous place for anyone who goes to take refuge under the tree,” Vito Magiolo, a spokesman for the capital’s fire department, said in an appearance on Thursday.
According to the United States National Weather Service (NWS), lightning strikes across the country have killed an average of 23 people per year over the past decade. July and August are the months where most deaths from electric shock occur. So far this year, nine deaths were recorded till last Tuesday. According to National Weather Service (NWS) data, there have been no more than 400 deaths in the District of Columbia in the past 15 years.
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According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chance of being struck by lightning is one in one million. 90% of victims survive. Florida, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the states with the most deaths and injuries from lightning. According to the CDC, Florida is considered the lightning capital of the country with more than 2,000 injuries in the past 50 years. Since 2006, apart from the District of Columbia, only five states (Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Washington) have recorded no deaths from lightning.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement after learning of the first two deaths: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Lafayette Park after the lightning struck. Our condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.” Heart is there and we pray for those who are still fighting for their lives.”
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