Men injured after lightning blows up tree

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2000

A group of Duncan Park golfers got a taste of nature’s fury Monday after lightning struck a nearby tree, causing it to &uot;explode&uot;&160;bark and splinters in their direction.

Two of the men, Kent Blanton and Justin Manley, took themselves to the hospital and were being treated at Natchez Community Hospital Tuesday for minor abrasions.

They were also being held for observation Monday, said hospital spokeswoman Kay Ketchings.

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Tuesday afternoon, doctors could not confirm whether the golfers were struck by the lightning.

Blanton’s doctor, Dr. Jerry Iles, said he does not think Blanton was struck by lightning, but that flying debris from the tree caused the injuries. Iles was waiting for final test results late Tuesday.

Two other golfers, Nick&160;Blanton and Benji Credle, were standing farther away from the tree located near the No. 3 green of the golf course.

Officials released Nick Blanton from the hospital Monday and told him to drink sports drinks to replenish any electrolytes he may have lost during an electrical charge.

Credle was farthest from the tree and did not seek medical assistance.

Kent Blanton said a thunderstorm was just beginning at about 5:30 p.m.&160;Monday when the golfers were on the course.

He was sitting in a golf cart about 2 feet away from a tree when &uot;all of a sudden this tree just exploded behind them,&uot; said his wife, Betty Blanton.

Kent Blanton, who said the hospital is monitoring his enzyme levels to determine if they are irregular – a symptom of an electrical charge entering the body. &uot;They seem to think we got a part of the bolt,&uot; he said.

What he remembers most from the experience is the impact.

&uot;It knocked me over in the seat (of the golf cart),&uot; he said, adding his right hand hurt the most.

Kent Blanton said his ears also kept ringing from the sound.

He received scrapes on his face, and his right hand and arm from flying debris.

&uot;I won’t be out (on the golf course) with any storms around anymore,&uot; Blanton said. &uot;I guarantee that much.&uot;

Blanton also has what are arguably dime-sized &uot;exit wounds&uot; from an electrical charge on two of his fingers, but both Blanton and Iles are not convinced they are exit wounds.

Blanton said he enzyme levels were elevated Monday but he did not have any other physical signs of being struck by lightning such as as burn sites, muscle damage or nerve damage.

&uot;We’re very fortunate and God watched over us tremendously,&uot; he said.

While in the hospital, Blanton is keeping in good spirits about his injuries.

He joked about buying lottery tickets – reflecting on a common perception that people are more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery.

&uot;I figure my odds may have improved,&uot; he said with a laugh.

Justin Manley, the other golfer still in the hospital Monday, was injured in the forehead by a fallen tree limb, Betty Blanton said.

The Blantons said their son, Nick, reported seeing two bolts of lightning hit the tree. He also said the bolt kept him from moving for a short time.

&uot;He said he couldn’t move,&uot; Betty Blanton said. &uot;It was holding him to the ground.&uot;

Marvin Gray, general manager at Duncan Park Golf Course, first heard about the men’s injuries after they drove their golf carts off the course.

&uot;It seems like our golf course in Duncan Park is lightning prone,&uot; he said.

He said he thinks at least six trees in the park were struck by lightning during Monday’s storm.

Gray said several dozen golfers were on the course when the storm began, and he warned the players he saw to evacuate.

&uot;When lightning starts popping, you leave,&uot; said Gray, who has worked at Duncan Park for more than three years.

Gray said he has heard of lightning injuring golfers at a lot of courses, but this is the first time he had seen it happen in his 20-year career.

Chad Pettera, a forecast meteorologist with Kansas-based WeatherData, said the energy from a lightning bolt tends to spread out and takes the &uot;path of least resistance.&uot;

It is possible for a bolt to hit a tree, then spread from that location, he said.

And if the ground is wet, it can make the charge spread even more, he said.

&uot;Electricity is always wanting to go from positive to negative to equalize its charge out,&uot; Pettera said.

People are good conductors of electricity because of their high level of water content, he said.

How to avoid being struck by lightning. (from Weather Data)

– Stay inside

– Crouch near the ground.

– Stay away from trees.

– Stay away from windows, plumbing, and fixtures.

– Stay off the telephone.

Lightning facts – also from Weather Data

– More than 7,000 Americans have been killed by lightning in a recent 34-year-period.

– Depending on the number of thunderstorms in the Unites States during a given year, Americans have a 1 in 250,000 or 1 in 400,000 chance of being struck by lightning.

– Lightning has the potential of discharging up to 2 million volts of electricity.

– One lightning flash is equivalent to 10 million light bulbs going on and off.

– A bolt of lightning can reach temperatures of 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit.