Couple 'momentarily blinded' after lightning strike

By Andrew Ashton

Don Sutherland, of Papakaio, with the equipment damaged when his house was hit by lightning. Photo / Andrew Ashton
Don Sutherland, of Papakaio, with the equipment damaged when his house was hit by lightning. Photo / Andrew Ashton

An elderly North Otago couple who were "momentarily blinded" when a direct lightning strike hit their rural home, believe they may have dodged a bullet, because they had sense to hang up the telephone minutes before it burst into flames.

Don and Carmen Sutherland, from Papakaio, were left with about $1000 worth of damaged electrical equipment, following a lightning strike during an electrical storm on Saturday , which "cooked" three telephones, a laptop computer, a printer, several ADSL micro-filters and power-surge protectors.

Mr Sutherland said he had been working in the garage at the time of the strike, but his wife Carmen had been inside talking on the telephone, just before the electrical storm hit about 5pm.

"There was no thunder, there was just a hell of a crack, and I was actually blinded for a while, because it lit up the garage. It was quite a frightening experience.

"I didn't know what it was, I was absolutely shocked, I thought there had been a plane crash.

"I could just hear that my wife was in the house screaming."

He said it was not until he went to check on his wife that he realised how lucky she had been.

"She said she saw flames shooting out of the telephone as she walked past it. She had actually hung up the phone just before, because she was talking to her daughter, but she said she would hang up the telephone, because you don't use phones in storms.

"Just a few minutes later, this happened, so it was just as well."

The couple were used to electrical storms in the area, but had never experienced a direct hit, because they lived close to a repeater station located on a large hill.

"I didn't think it would miss them and hit us, but it must have been the angle it came from."

Waitaki District emergency services manager Chris Raine said Mrs Sutherland had done the correct thing in hanging up the telephone, because telephone cables could conduct an electric current.

"If you're inside a house, you should shut your computer down and not be near any electrical appliance, and obviously, don't use your phone."

People should also stay away from tall objects and anything made from metal, if they were caught outside during a storm, he said.

"If you're caught in a storm, really, you have to get low, and if you start to smell a strange smell, which is ozone, it indicates that the air is becoming ionised and something is about to go crack."

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