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Weather turned unexpectedly deadly in Southern California on Sunday afternoon just before three o’clock. Four bolts of lightning touched down in and near the water at Venice Beach in a 15 minute storm that struck and killed one man and injured 13 others. According to the LAFD, seven adults and a teenager were taken to local hospitals, with one adult listed as “critical.” The man who was killed by the strike was twenty-years old.
One of the hospitalized men, when interviewed, claimed “he doesn’t remember the lightning strike.” He lost consciousness in the water and was saved by friends who pulled him out. Another witness, about 50 yards from the pier, described the lightning strike as a “jolt of electricity all over his body, starting from his feet.” Others described it as “a huge boom” or as “sounding like a bomb or explosion.” The buildings close to the beach shook, and a resident who lives a quarter of a mile from the beach said it “sounded like a cannon.”
Emergency workers were quick on the scene with lifeguards splitting their forces between the water and the injured on the beach. The fire department responded with boats and helicopters, looking for swimmers who were injured. Eight lifeguards formed a human chain to comb the water for unconscious swimmers. The emergency helicopters flew over the area for quite some time, to ensure that all the victims were out of the water.
Cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were not confined to Venice Beach, although that is the only location where someone was killed. They were also reported to have touched ground at the Los Angeles airport and in Marina Del Rey. Earlier in the day, San Diego experienced rain and hail from the same weather front, reporting half an inch of rain in Del Mar. One thousand customers of San Diego Gas & Electric lost power from the storm.
Thirty miles away from Venice Beach, on Santa Catalina Island, another lightning strike hit a man at the Avalon golf course and caused two brush fires that were quickly contained. Catalina Island lost power from the storm. Although the 57 year-old injured man was hospitalized, he was later released. Weather officials said two-thirds of an inch of rain fell in half an hour over Avalon, the island’s biggest city. Catalina Island is famous for the movies filmed there in the early days of Hollywood, most particularly Mutiny on the Bounty with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable.
The National Weather Service tweeted for SoCal residents to “stay inside if they heard thunder, and wait until it passes.” Thunderstorm conditions are not normal for Venice Beach, which is famous for its boardwalk, bodybuilding and people-watching. Other parts of the Southland also received damage from the storm with a home and car damaged by a bolt of lightning in Redondo Beach, leaving hundreds of customers in the area without power.
The National Weather Service believes the storm resulted from monsoon conditions that traveled west from Arizona. While the small amounts of rain are welcome and set a new record for July 27 daily rainfall, weather officials said this freak storm would not be enough to have an impact on California’s drought, currently in its third year. The residents of Venice Beach are unlikely to forget these killer lightning strikes anytime soon.
By Jenny Hansen