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Woman Survives Lightning Strikes

by Melissa Lovin

Linda Cooper of Spartanburg, South Carolina is considered a survivor, living through not one, not two, but three lightning strikes. Cooper, who was first struck at the age of 33 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida understands the value of a human life and will firmly tell you that those who say lightning never strikes twice don't know what they are talking about.

Approximately 500 people are struck by lightning in the U.S. each year. The chances of a person being struck is one in 497,419. An Average of 80 Americans die each year from lightning strikes. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, it is the second leading cause of weather-related deaths, with floods and flash floods being the first. No one has been able to tell Cooper the chances of being struck three times, but she does not even hold the record for strikes. Park Ranger Roy Sullivan survived eight lightning strikes before committing suicide in 1983, reportedly because he could no longer stand the fear and dread of waiting for it to happen again.

Although she suffered painfully through all three incidents, Ms. Cooper has turned her near tragedies into an opportunity to educate others on the dangers of lightning and how to avoid being struck. Cooper says that each time she was struck it was because she was unaware that she was in danger. As a member of the Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors International (LS&ESSI), a support group, she has appeared on episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show", Discovery, A&E and a National Geographic special that won a journalism award. She also appeared on "The Early Show" in May of this year.

Of lightning strike survivors, 70 percent experience long-term affects, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute. Cooper is among the 52 percent that experience memory deficit and loss as well as other affects ranging from severe fatigue to constant pain.

The first strike occurred on September 15, 1983 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where Ms. Cooper lived at the time. After leaving work, Ms. Cooper went to the bank drive-through window where she deposited her check. It had been raining off and on all that day and was still drizzling a bit as she stepped off of the curb to walk toward the post office across the street where she was planning to mail a package. Cooper was unaware that there was a storm in the area, only that rain was not unusual for a Florida afternoon. In an instant, lightning struck an ungrounded flagpole on the post office and then struck her in the head.

She does not remember much after that, only that the next real thing she remembered was putting her wet, dirty package on the counter in the post office, uncertain of why she was there or what she was supposed to do. The rest of the day she was extremely fatigued, her skin took on a grayish pallor, and the hair on her arms stood on end. She finally sought treatment and was hospitalized for 6 days. The next several years were spent battling chronic fatigue, headaches, memory loss and confusion. All total, Ms. Cooper spent 8 years trying to reclaim her life, that is until lightning struck again.

The second incident occurred on May 27, 1993 at her home in Hillsboro Beach, Florida. According to Cooper, the sky was clear with no trace of a thunderstorm near. She was talking on the telephone with her daughter when she heard a boom, felt the charge go into her face and felt the house shake. Luckily the strike was mild in comparison to the last one. She says she felt flu-like symptoms for about a week but suffered no long-term damage.

A year later on July 11, 1994 Cooper was at her home in Spartanburg, South Carolina where she and her husband Gordon had moved in November of 1993. Cooper recalls that it had rained earlier in the day but the storm seemed to have passed. She said she had never heard of the 30/30 rule which you should be able to count to 30 between a lightning strike and when you hear thunder, and you should also wait 30 minutes after a storm before you resume any activity involving electricity or plumbing such as talking on the phone or using a sink.

She had just finished making Jell-O and was about to rinse out the cup. She had both hands on the sink. Suddenly, Ms. Cooper says it felt as if both of her arms were on fire from her hands up to her elbows. She was dazed for about 2 and a half hours after the shock and still has problems with her arms and hands.

Ms. Cooper works with the LS&ESSI to educate people on the dangers of lightning and safety precautions that can be taken to avoid strikes. The following list of safety rules are steps to take to save your life when lightning threatens:

1. Stay indoors, and don't venture outside, unless absolutely necessary.

2. Say away from open doors and windows, fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks, and plug-in electrical appliances.

3. Don't use plug-in electrical equipment like hair dryers, electric tooth brushes, or electric razors during the storm.

4. Don't use the telephone during the storm--lightning may strike the telephone lines outside.

5. Don't take laundry off the clothesline.

6. Don't work on fences, telephone or power lines, or structural steel fabrication.

7. Get out of the water and off small boats.

8. When you feel the electrical charge--if your hair stands on end or your skin tingles--lightning may be about to strike you. Drop to the ground IMMEDIATELY.

9. Don't use metal objects like fishing rods and golf clubs.

10. Don't handle flammable materials in open containers.

11. Stop tractor work, especially when the tractor is pulling metal equipment, and dismount. Tractors and other implements in metallic contact with the ground are often struck by lightning.

12. Stay in your automobile if you are traveling. Automobiles offer excellent lightning protection. Keep windows shut.

13. Seek shelter in buildings.

14. When there is no shelter, avoid the highest object in the area. If only isolated trees are nearby, your best protection is to crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from isolated trees as the trees are high.

15. Avoid hill tops, open spaces, wire fences, metal clothes lines, exposed sheds, and any electrically conductive elevated objects.

These simple steps, if followed in lightning prone situations, could save your life. The more you know the safer you are.




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