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Venice Beach hit by at least 4 lightning strikes; 1 dead, others hurt

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Rare Southern California summer storms set off lightning, striking at least 9 people and igniting brush fires

One man was killed and at least eight others were hurt when lightning from a rare band of summer thunderstorms struck Venice Beach on Sunday afternoon.

The unidentified man in his 20s died after he was transported from Venice Beach to Marina Del Rey Hospital for treatment.

A second man struck by lightning in Venice was listed in critical condition. He and six others remain hospitalized, including a 15-year-old.

Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service said least four lightning strikes hit the Venice Beach area around 2:20 p.m. He said strikes hit the water and the beach, but could not specify where. 

Witnesses said the lightning storm seemed to come out of nowhere.

Roger Davis was inside his home on Ocean Front Walk near Driftwood when he heard the explosions. "The whole place shook," he said. He ran outside. His neighbor, a doctor, was giving CPR to a victim, Davis said.

He said firefighters set up a triage area on the south end of the parking lot ‎down from the Venice Pier. He said he saw them treat two victims then take them away in ambulances.

Angelica Roquemore said the entire storm lasted about 15 minutes. The sky over the pier turned dark and lightning crashed down a short time later, startling the crowd of fisherman and beach-goers on the pier.

"The minute it struck there are a few choice words," she said.

"My hair was standing up."

Roquemore, who came to Venice from Bakersfield with her family, said the thunderclap panicked a good number of people along the section of the pier she was standing on, and a brief rainfall sent some scrambling inside. "You could hear everybody screaming," she said.

Jesus Zamudio arrived at the beach just as rescue crews were clearing victims from the pier and saw a crowd of lifeguards surrounding one victim on the back of a truck.

They were giving the man CPR but he wasn't responding.

"The guy wasn't moving. He wasn't responding at all," said Zamudio of Riverside. "It was sad to see, the guy looked young."

Zamudio said he was planing to visit the pier about an earlier, but got stuck in a traffic jam that he is now thankful for.

Giovanni Alonzo, a 14-year-old who spent the day fishing, was at the edge of the pier helping someone rig a line when he said his field of vision filled with white.

"I just saw a big old flash of light right over my head me then my hair was tingling and then there was this huge crash of thunder," he said.

Alonzo said he joined a throng of people who rushed off the pier and back to the beach, where he saw a crowd of rescue personnel crowding around a man who was injured when an oxygen tank was struck. The man was unconscious for several minutes, Alonzo said.

He stayed on the beach and watched lifeguards, eight in a line, swim out in search of the swimmer who was seriously injured in the strike.

"I've seen lightning," said Alonzo of Los Angeles. "But never that loud."

Vern L. Williams said one of the bolts struck a light post at the edge of the pier, less than five feet from where he'd been fishing. "I dove to the floor to the concrete," said Williams, 43, of Los Angeles. "That ain't nothing to play with."

Williams said he's been fishing on the pier for decades and was used to seeing threatening clouds roll in from the ocean. But when the cloud cover closed in he started to worry. "I'm out here 24 hours a day. I ain't never seen it hit right next to a light pole," he said. "That was crazy."

Gabe Anderson, 28, was eating a turkey and ham sandwich for lunch on the roof of his beachside triplex Sunday around 3 p.m. when a single lightning strike clapped down on the water.

"It was all blue skies, except there were some dark clouds coming from the south," he said. "Then just one big crack of lightning -- pretty unexpected."

He estimated the lightning hit toward the end of the pier, slightly south of it. He went inside afterward, and could not see or hear anything after the initial strike,  but said he heard one or two additional cracks further off in the moments that followed.

"It shook the house," he added of the first strike, as he relaxed on a towel on the sand. "It set off a couple car alarms and dogs started barking. It was really close." 

"I live about a mile away and it sounded like a cannon went off," said Jeremy Miller, 33, who lives about a quarter-mile from the beach. "Louder than a gunshot would have been."

On Catalina Island, lightning struck a man and ignited several brush fires, authorities said.

The unidentified 57-year-old man did not suffer life-threatening injuries in the strike and was listed in stable condition, said Sgt. Robert Berardi of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The unusual midday storm also knocked out electricity on the island, according to county officials.

There were also reports of lightning near Marina Del Rey and Los Angeles International Airport, and brief downpours occurred about 1 p.m. in the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Marina del Rey.

Earlier, storms dropped hail and rain in San Diego, with half an inch of rain reported in Del Mar. About 1,000 customers of San Diego Gas & Electric were left without power, officials said.

The summer storm set a new record rainfall total for the day in downtown L.A., according to the NWS.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Story Update 7/27 6:46 p.m.

Updated with new numbers and details from L.A. Fire Department.

 

Death of man at Venice.

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