Clearwater Beach, Fla. — Authorities say a lightning strike at a Gulf Coast beach in Florida left eight people hurt, one of them critically. Clearwater Deputy Fire Chief Marvin Pettingill told local media outlets the lightning strike occurred at Clearwater Beach after midday Sunday after lifeguards had left their towers because of bad weather.
The reports said the man in critical condition took a direct hit and went into cardiac arrest. Seven other people nearby were injured, at least one with burns. Authorities said five were taken to hospitals, and three refused treatment.
Witnesses told the news outlets people were moving off the beach when the lightning struck. The reports say some people at a nearby restaurant dragged the injured indoors as rain poured down and began administering first aid.
Sandy Harper told CBS Tampa affiliate WTSP-TV she noticed clouds darkening overhead but they appeared to be blowing away from shore.
"As soon as I said that, there was a strike," Harper said.
It was her cue to go, and lifeguards followed suit trying to get everyone out of the water and away from the beach.
Harper said she heard the thunder – and saw the vivid flash, believed to be the injury-causing strike — as she and others headed for the parking lot. Harper looked out the window of a friend's hotel room and saw the ambulances and fire trucks responding to victims. All the while, people still hung out at the beach.
The injured were not immediately identified.