Two dead in lightning strike near White House on Thursday

Two of those hospitalized after an apparent lightning strike Thursday night in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, have died, a DC police spokesman said Friday.

Four people, two men and two women, were seriously injured. on strike just before 7 pm in the center of the park, in a grove about 100 feet southeast of the Andrew Jackson statue, fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said at a news conference Thursday night. The US Secret Service and the US Park Police provided assistance to the victims, assistance that firefighters attributed to the initial survival of all the victims.

Police identified those who died as Donna Mueller, 75, and James Mueller, 76, a married couple from Wisconsin. The others remain in critical condition, police said.

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White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement: “We are saddened by the tragic loss of life following the lightning strike in Lafayette Park. Our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones and we are praying for those who are still fighting for their lives.”

A relative of the couple, contacted Friday morning in Wisconsin, said family members were not yet ready to discuss the two in depth. The Muellers were the parents of five adult children and also had grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to the relative, who declined to give her name. She said the couple was alone in Washington as tourists and had no connection to the other two people injured by lightning under the tree.

The lightning was triggered by a severe thunderstorm that hit the district just before 7 p.m. up to 60 mph and quarter-size hail.

Chris Vagasky, an analyst at Vaisala, which operates a national lightning detection network, said in a message that there was a “6-hit flash near the White House that hit the same spot on the ground” at 6:49 p.m. He explained. which means six individual surges of electricity hit the same spot on the ground in half a second.

Vagasky tweeted that between 2010 and 2021, “289 cloud-to-ground flashes occurred within a mile of the White House, an average of 24 per year.”

“This incident underscores the need for people to get to a place of safety whenever there is a thunderstorm in the area,” John Jensenius, safety specialist for the National Lightning Safety Council, said in an email. “Even the distant rumble of thunder should serve as a warning to immediately enter a solid building or rigid metal roof.”

Lightning was unleashed during a severe thunderstorm in Washington, DC, before four people were apparently struck near the White House on August 4. (Video: Dave Statter)

Lightning strikes kill 23 people in the United States in an average year. Thursday’s deaths in the District increased the number of lightning strikes from 2022 to 11, matching the 2021 total. According to the Lightning Safety Council, this is the first fatal lightning incident in the District since 1991. when a teenager was killed and 10 others were injured at St. Albans School in Northwest Washington.

In June 2020, Two members of the National Guard were injured by a lightning strike near 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest Washington. In 1998, a woman was seriously injured and other bystanders injured when lightning struck RFK Stadium during a concert.

What I learned from 20 years photographing lightning in DC

July and August are the peak lightning months in the United States.

Numerous storms, containing frequent lightning, erupted in the region Thursday night after temperatures soared into the mid to 90s earlier in the day, prompting a heat advisory. Heat indexes, a measure of how hot it feels taking humidity into account, reached 100 to 110 degrees.

Thunderstorms are forecast for the Washington region again on Friday and through the weekend. The Weather Service issued a flood watch for the area for Friday afternoon and evening.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Clarence Williams and Emily Davies contributed to this report.

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