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Lightning hits trees, kills 17 in Zhejiang
By Shao Xiaoyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-28 08:33

LINHAI, Zhejiang: Seventeen people were killed and 13 others injured as a result of a heavy lightning storm on Saturday in Linhai in East China's Zhejiang Province.

Villagers gather at the site of the lightning. [newsphoto]

Two injured people were reportedly dead in a local hospital, local officials said yesterday.

The thunder storm struck at about 2 pm as a crowd of nearly 30 villagers gathered at a shabby shed made of plastic fibre under five big trees to avoid the rain in Duqian Village of the county of Duqiao.

Eleven villagers were confirmed dead on the spot, three died on the way to hospital, while the others were sent to a nearby hospital for treatment, where three more died.

Local officials rushed to the scene as soon as they heard the news and about 20 medical experts with emergency equipment were dispatched to the local hospital.

"The squall came in suddenly together with lightning and thunder. After three loud crashes of thunder, I came out of my house and heard that someone was dead, and found the men and women lying on the ground with their faces all black," Xinhua news agency quoted a witness as saying.

Some villagers gathered at the 100-square-metre ground for leisure in the low-farming season while others were stopped by the sudden rain, Ye Weijun, Linhai's mayor, told China Daily by telephone.

People were concentrated on playing cards while no one realized that they were under trees about 15 metres tall -a Chinese jujube and four metasequoia.

Standing under such tall trees is not a good idea in such a lightning storm.

"We really did not know that people couldn't stand under trees in a storm, and what we cared at that time was who was the final winner in the card game," a survivor, who lost consciousness after the thunderbolt struck, recalled.

The neighbouring houses are all lower than 10 metres, which made the tall trees easy conductors of the lightning,Ye said.

Usually, the shabby shed was a site for entertainment for villagers to have a chat or tea, as well as play cards in the summer.

Local villagers said the shed was a famous gambling place. However, the local police have not received any reports and the case is still under investigation, according to Ye.

Four people's bodies were cremated yesterday and other remains will be cremated in the coming days.

Moreover, local meteorologists and scientific experts will further look into the cause of the lightning accident.

Such storms are frequent in the rainy season in the country while such a large number of the deaths is rare, according to Ye.

Ye stressed that media such as newspapers, broadcasters and TV should further broadcast warnings about lightning's dangers during rainstorms, especially in the countryside.

Ye pointed out that one of the main tasks for local officials is to help villagers get rid of superstitious thoughts such as people were killed by the heaven instead of by lightning, and to assist victims' relatives with necessary counseling.

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