L.A. Now

Witnesses horrified by deadly lightning strike at L.A. beach

'Then just one big crack of lightning -- pretty unexpected,' says storm witness

On the Venice boardwalk, the freak weather seemed to come out of nowhere on a hot, muggy Sunday.

First thunder so violent some thought it was an earthquake.

Then the lightning started.

When it was over, at least seven people hit by lightning were hurt and one man was dead. 

Gabe Anderson, 28, was eating 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 heard one or two additional cracks farther 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. "Louder than a gunshot would have been."

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 beachgoers 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," said Zamudio of Riverside. "It was sad to see, the guy looked young." Zamudio said he was planning to visit the pier about an earlier but got stuck in a traffic jam 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 says 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 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 [like that]."

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."

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

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