Nature unleashed its fury on Monday with flash floods and landslides in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, but the most disturbing news was about the death of people due to lightning in several states. Seventy-four people died when lightning struck them in UP, MP and Rajasthan on Sunday night. This is said to be one of the worst lightning disasters in the recent past.
Eleven tourists lost their lives at the 12th century historic Amer Fort near Jaipur. They were taking selfies from the watch tower of the fort on Sunday evening when lightning struck twice. Among those dead were a brother and a sister from Chheherta, Punjab. According to eyewitnesses, it was raining when the tourists huddled inside the watch tower to protect themselves from getting wet. There were 30 people inside the watch tower when lightning struck. Apart from the Jaipur tragedy, 41 people died in U.P. across 16 districts due to lightning on Sunday evening.
Deaths due to lightning were reported on Sunday from Jaipur, Kota, Jhalawar, Baran, Dhaulpur, Sawai Madhopur and Tonk in Rajasthan, Kaushambi, Kanpur, Prayagraj, Ferozabad, Agra, Unnao, Pratapgarh, Varanasi and Raebareli in U.P., and from Gwalior, Shivpuri, Sheopur, Anuppur, Baitul in Madhya Pradesh. These are places where the monsoon has set in and there is rainfall and humidity, which could be a right setting for lightnings to strike.
The tragedy that took place at Amer Fort is a glaring and instructive example on what to do and not to do when there are lightnings in the sky. The crowd of tourists had gathered at the topmost height (watch tower) of the fort, and there were forests in the vicinity. Most of them had their cellphones active and there were taking selfies. The selfies proved to be their death warrants. Normally, lightning strikes at the topmost height on land and this acted as the most active conductor point for lightning.
Lesson number one: Never use your cellphone during lightning, never in an open area. Your cellphone could act as a conductor.
When lightning strikes at a human body, glucose in the body is ionized and the person instantly loses energy, gets heart shock and the heart either stops beating or slows down, and it affects breathing instantly.
Lesson Number Two: When lightning strikes, if a person’s heart beats begin to stop, give him instant CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation). If the person’s hands and feet start getting cold, rub them vigorously. When lightning struck Amer Fort, several tourists lost consciousness and some of them fell into the ditch. Police and SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) personnel arrived but due to darkness, rescue efforts were hampered.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed a survivor Sahil describing what happened. When the first lightning struck, he was not injured. He rang up police and started helping people by giving them CPR. Unfortunately, when the second lightning struck, he fell unconscious and is now fighting for his life in hospital.
This tragedy should teach all of us a lesson: Never take selfies during lightning. Your selfie point could be the point of death. Selfie sticks act as good conductor of electricity, and lightning touches such points immediately. Selfie is not the only culprit. Those who died in rural areas of UP, MP and Rajasthan, were either standing under trees to protect themselves from rain, or were in open field or were using umbrellas which had metallic points.
Eighteen people died of lightning in Kanpur and neighbouring areas on Sunday, 14 died in Prayagraj, seven died in Kaushambi, three died in Agra, two lost their lives in Unnao, and one each died in Pratapgarh, Raebareli and Varanasi. More than 250 cattle lost their lives too, due to lightning.
Nearly 78 per cent of deaths due to lightning occur when people stand under a tree during rains. The trunk and branches of the trees that are wet during rains, act as conductors and in a ‘side flash’ strike a human being who stands near the trunk. Normally lightning carries 1,000 ampere current and lakhs of volts of power. When it strikes a tree, it charges an area within several meters radius from the tree. Any human being standing within that radius is struck immediately.
There are several do’s and don’ts to protect yourself from lightning: (1) Never go outside when there are lightning flashing in the sky (2) Two parts of the human body are affected when somebody is struck with lightning, point of entry and point of exit, that is usually the feet. Tend to these parts immediately (3) During lightnings, if the hairs on your arm stand on edge, immediately sit frog-legged, put your head between your knees and put your hands on the knees (4) Do not use umbrella or cellphone during lightning, and avoid going into an open area (5) During heavy rains and lightning, switch off most of your electrical appliances like TV, fridge, AC, microwave oven, etc. (6) Use sandals to walk on your floor, do not move around barefoot (7) Stay away from all electrical appliances and metallic substances like iron pipes, that can act as a conductor of electricity (8) Do not touch doorknobs or window frames.
There has been a 34 per cent rise in the incidents of lightning strikes in India during the last year. The highest spike was in Punjab, where the number rise three and a half times more compared to the previous year. The number of lightning strikes rose twice compared to the previous year in Bihar, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. According to one study, a one per cent rise in global temperature causes 12 per cent hike in the number of lightning strikes.
Caution is the need of the hour. I have already described the do’s and don’ts to protect yourselves when you are at home. If you are driving a car during lightning, close all window glasses and do not touch any metallic point on the car body. Try to enter a building, after stopping your car till the bad weather subsides. There are some natural indicators about when a lightning could strike. Hairs on your body could stand up on edge and you could feel strong currents flowing in your body. The best protection is: run inside a building, and try to sit frog-legged, away from metallic substances.
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