Two men died and a third was injured Sunday when lightning struck a tree at a soccer field in Houston, already hard-hit by fierce storms over the past week, officials said.
Several hundred players and spectators had gathered at La Escondida Soccer Club, where a men’s league plays, when a storm broke around 12:07 p.m., Deputy Sheriff Thomas Gilliland, spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. Several spectators sought safety under a tree, part of a line of foliage marking a perimeter to the field.
Seeking shelter under a tree is one of the worst things those caught in a storm with thunder and lightning can do, officials caution. Because trees are taller than their surroundings, they serve as accessible targets for incoming discharges of electricity. The National Weather Service advises instead to seek a safe shelter.
“The storm band seems to have just come up suddenly,” Gilliland said. “If they had just gone anywhere else....”
The lightning hit the tree and sent electric shivers through the boughs, some of which began burning.
“I heard what sounded like a bomb go off,” Harris County Deputy Joe Shriver told My Fox Houston on Sunday. “It hit the top of the tree, and it was just sparks and fire going all the way down the tree, and then when it hit the ground, it just dispersed out.”
One man was confirmed dead at the scene and a second was pronounced dead at a hospital. Both sustained burns and trauma, Gilliland said.
The injured man, also suffering burns and major trauma, was taken to a hospital where he was listed in stable condition Monday, Gilliland said.
States in the South and Midwest tend to report more deaths by lightning strikes than elsewhere, likely an indication of the fierce storm activity in those regions.
The United States averaged 54 reported lightning fatalities a year in each of the past 30 years. Only about 10% of those hit by lightning die, the national Weather Service reported.