38 Injured, 3 Dead After Lightning Strikes Churchgoers

  • Feb 26, 2016

A bolt of lightning struck a tree in an open field while members of the Shembe Nazareth Baptist Church were worshipping on 13 February 2016. The event took place in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa in KwaMachi, near Harding. 38 members sustained minor shock injuries that affected the nerve endings in their hands and feet. 3 members of the church, all women aged 50-65, died as the lightning struck right before the church leader closed the service.

The above video shows the Total Lightning activity from the hours of 10-22UTC. Over 13,000 in-cloud (purple) and cloud-to-ground (yellow) lightning strikes affected the area. There was a large break between lightning occurrences in the Harding area around 2:00 UTC. This break in the storm may have lulled the church goers into a false sense of security before an even stronger and more dense grouping of lightning made its way westward through the KwaZulu-Natal region.


The above image taken from PulseRad, Earth Networks’ proxy radar, shows that the area around Harding received over 12mm of rain on 13 February.

So what happens to lightning once it strikes a tree, like in this incident out of South Africa or like in the below video filmed in Australia?

When lightning strikes a tree, the electrical current travels through the wet sap and bark to the ground. Those standing on the ground too close to the tree are at risk of picking up the electrical shock as the energy moves through the tree and the ground. Lightning strikes can result in tree damage ranging from the bark of a tree being blown off to the lightning igniting the tree and it burning to the ground.