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Lightning claims 12 people in six months

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By Jameson Chauluka:

At least 12 people have died after being struck by lightning in the country since July 2018, statistics from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs indicate.

This means, on average, two people die of lightning every month in the country. Most of the deaths, four, were registered in Mchinji District.

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The Department of Climate Change and Metrological Services Director, Jolam Nkhokwe, said there is an increase in cases of lightning killing people in the country due to massive deforestation, among other factors.

“When lightning occurs, it strikes the tallest structures around. What is happening now is that trees have been cut down and people are becoming the tallest structures possible, making them vulnerable,” he said.

Nkhokwe urged Malawians to plant more trees to minimise instances of lightning killing people.

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He, however, advised against sitting directly under trees during the rainy season, saying lightning can strike people together with the tree.

Nkhokwe said lightning is a form of electricity in the clouds which is formed by friction of rising air and descending moisture in form of precipitation.

He said lightning is formed in cumulonimbus or thunder clouds that have negative and positive charges on top and bottom.

He said there are three types of lightning but the most dangerous one originates from clouds that are closer to earth.

“The positive charges on the bottom of the cloud gets attracted to the negative charges that are on the surface of the earth. That is why we are saying avoid being under trees because as the lightning is being formed by the positive charges at the bottom of the cloud and the negative charges of tallest surface of the earth, you can fall victim,” he said.

Nkhokwe said other risky areas are mountains because thunder is formed when air is forced to rise on the mountain.

How to stay safe from lightning

  • Stay away from open fields or hilltops
  • Avoid swimming or watersports on rainy days.
  • Do not stand near trees or tall isolated objects
  • Avoid metal objects, like fences or exposed pipes
  • Add a lightning rod to your roof
  • Avoid bathing, showering, or using sinks as much as possible
  • Turn off and stay away from wired electronics
  • Keep your windows closed
  • Run to your vehicle for safety
  • Place your hands in your lap
  • Do not handle the radio or your GPS system
  • Pull to the side of the road in heavy storms.
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