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
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
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
3. Don't use plug-in electrical equipment like
hair dryers, electric tooth brushes, or electric razors during
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
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
12. Stay in your automobile if you are traveling.
Automobiles offer excellent lightning protection. Keep windows
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
These simple steps, if followed in lightning prone
situations, could save your life. The more you know the safer