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State issues warning on lightning strikes; Caution rules survivors of '06 event.

Byline: Vivian Ho

WORCESTER - Cherelle Perry still remembers the afternoon of July 23, 2006, as being clear and sunny.

"It was raining at around 2 p.m. and it was thundering; then at 3:30 it got nice," she said. "We went outside and the weather was beautiful."

Just a few hours later, Ms. Perry, 19, was among the 11 parishioners at the Second Baptist Church on Hammond Street who were struck by lightning.

The parishioners' plight is remembered all too clearly now, with the recent rash of lightning storms happening around the state, including in Dorchester Sunday, when 10 people were injured as lightning struck a tree during a community soccer game.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency released a safety warning yesterday regarding the storms.

"There seems to be an unusually large number of lightning events this summer," Peter Judge, MEMA public information officer, said in an interview. "We've had this unusually hot weather, which has brought in many afternoons of thunderstorms throughout the state.

"This is the time of year when you have a lot of people putting themselves in harm's way, off at ball fields, golf courses and beaches," Mr. Judge said. "If they're not very careful about observing themselves for lightning, they could very easily get hurt."

All 11 parishioners struck at Second Baptist Church two years ago are alive today. One young woman went into cardiac arrest; the rest were treated for burns and injuries caused by the blast.

"It wasn't just the outside that was burned, but the inside, the organs," said Cherelle's sister, Danelle Perry, 20, one of the parishioners struck. "You could smell the burning flesh."

The lightning entered Cherelle's body at her lower back before exiting at her right calf, leaving burn marks on both sides, she said. Both she and her sister twisted their ankles trying to get up on their numb legs.

"Some people were on the ground, some had flown across to where the grass is," Danelle said. "It was so powerful, it set the inside alarm off. One girl had a cross around her neck and it was blown off. She had a burn around her neck, but we found the cross later."

The National Weather Service predicts thunderstorms tonight, as well as a chance of thunderstorms from tomorrow night through Saturday night.

Danelle said she knows that for all of next week, too, there will be thunderstorms - she and her sister are always checking the weather forecast now. Whenever a storm hits, she and her sister call up everyone who was struck to make sure they all get indoors and shut off everything electronic in their home, she said.

"As soon as they hear boom, boom, boom, they're going inside," said Sue Burrell, aunt of Danelle and Cherelle.

Danelle and Cherelle said they get angry when people don't take the storms seriously.

The woman who went into cardiac arrest lost the hearing in one ear for a while, Cherelle said. "My mom (Rochelle Perry, also one of the 11) had nerve damage. She was taking medicine for it."

In the United States, 300 people are injured and nearly 80 are killed on average each year by lightning. According to MEMA, lightning causes more injuries and deaths than tornadoes or hurricanes.

If caught outdoors during a thunderstorm, MEMA said, the best thing to do is to get to a low area, away from trees and metal objects, and squat down and put your head between your knees, making yourself the smallest target possible. Seeking refuge in a hard-topped vehicle is also ideal, though you must avoid touching anything metal in the meantime.

If indoors, MEMA still recommends avoiding metal objects, and to avoid showering or bathing, as the plumbing can work as a conductor. MEMA instructs people to unplug electrical appliances and not to use corded telephones, though cordless and cellular phones are safe to use.

To this day, whenever there is lightning, Danelle and Cherelle can still feel a shock run through their bodies, they said. Safely in the basement of the church, they sat alert yesterday, warily eyeing the pouring rain outside, listening carefully to the distant rumble of thunder. Outside, the tree that was struck still stands testimony to their ordeal. Wet and whipping in the wind, the leaves still have not grown back in the area of the tree that was struck.

"Be very cautious," Danelle said. "We are blessed to be alive. We should have died."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 24, 2008
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