Two men and two women were hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Thursday evening after an apparent lightning strike in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, according to D.C. fire officials.
The four adults were found just before 7 p.m. in the center of the park, in a grove of trees about 100 feet southeast of the statue of Andrew Jackson, fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said at a news briefing Thursday night. The U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police rendered aid to the victims, which fire officials credited to the ability of the victims to initially survive.
It was not immediately clear why the victims were in the park at the time of the strike, Maggiolo said. Fire officials said Park Police would be investigating the incident.
“Trees are not safe places,” Maggiolo said. “Anybody that goes to seek shelter under a tree, that’s a very dangerous place to be.”
All four people were taken to a hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries.
The precise cause of their injuries remains under investigation, authorities said.
A witness to the lightning strike described it as “massive. It shook the whole area. Literally like a bomb went off, that’s how it sounded.”
The lightning was unleashed by a severe thunderstorm that swept across the District just before 7 p.m. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for much of the Beltway area between 6:30 and 7:15 p.m., cautioning of the threat of damaging wind gusts up to 60 mph and quarter-size hail.
Chris Vagasky, an analyst for Vaisala, which operates a national lightning network, said in a message that there was a “6 stroke flash near the White House that hit the same point on the ground” at 6:49 p.m. He explained that means six individual surges of electricity hit the same point on the ground within half a second.
Numerous storms, containing frequent lightning, flared up in the region Thursday evening after temperatures soared into the mid-to-upper 90s earlier in the day, prompting a heat advisory. Heat indexes, a measure of how hot it feels factoring in humidity, reached 100 to 110 degrees.
The heat-fueled storms unleashed a wind gust to 58 mph at Reagan National Airport and toppled trees around Winchester, Columbia and Baltimore. The torrents also spurred multiple reports of flooded roads around Baltimore.
Widespread power outages were reported, with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) of Maryland on Twitter reporting more than 50,000 as of late Thursday.
Lightning kills 23 people in the United States in an average year and has resulted in nine fatalities so far in 2022.