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Lightning kills 9 in one stroke

Burdwan, Aug. 4: A single bolt of lightning killed nine people in a Burdwan village this evening while they were attending a shradh ceremony.

A son and daughter-in-law of the man in whose memory the mourners had gathered were among the dead.

Thirteen people have been admitted to Burdwan Medical College and Hospital with severe burns. The condition of two of them is critical.

Such was the ferocity of the 6pm bolt — with a temperature possibly as high as 10,000 degrees Celsius — that the bodies were charred.

Eight people died on the spot at the congregation in Khandaghosh’s Atkulla village, 135km from Calcutta.

“One died in the hospital. Two of the injured have suffered 80 per cent burns and their condition is critical,” said Dilip Kumar Jha, the hospital’s deputy superintendent.

Today’s casualty is possibly the highest ever to have occurred in a single stroke in Bengal, where deaths by lightning aren’t unusual during the Norwester season and monsoon. Ten people had died one May afternoon last year in Malda but the deaths were scattered across the district.

This evening, nearly 80 villagers had assembled at the mud-walled thatched-roof house of Anil Pramanik, a 60-year-old who died 12 days ago after protracted illness, for his shradh. A shamiana had been set up in the courtyard of the house to accommodate around 35 people.

Suddenly there was a blinding flash of lightning and cries of panic. “I saw an electric flash roll across the courtyard and I froze,” said Subodh Pramanik, 40, a villager invited to the ceremony.

Minutes later, eight charred bodies lay around the courtyard, including those of Anil’s elder son Sushil, 40, and daughter-in-law Archana, 35. Also killed was a five-year-old boy, Anil’s relative. The rest were neighbours.

“We did not know what to do. I ran to the house of another villager, Asim Roy, who owns two lorries. We used the vehicles to take the injured to Burdwan, 60km away,” said Asim Panja, 35, a survivor.

The villagers said the shamiana and a portion of Anil’s thatched roof were gutted.

Ganesh, 38, Anil’s younger son, recounted the horror. “Rice, dal and vegetable curry was being served in the courtyard and about 20 villagers had sat down to eat when the bolt struck.”

Lightning striking the ground has a temperature of around 10,000 degrees Celsius, said G.C. Debnath, the director of the weather section at the Regional Meteorological Centre in Calcutta.

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