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Fort Myers police stand guard on the campus of McGregor Baptist Church on Colonial Blvd. where a person was reportedly struck by lightning Wednesday afternoon.
Fort Myers police stand guard on the campus of McGregor Baptist Church on Colonial Blvd. where a person was reportedly struck by lightning Wednesday afternoon. / Terry Allen Williams/news-press.com

Lightning tips & info

• The first lightning strike can be a mile or more in front of an approaching thunderstorm cloud.

• Many people struck by lightning can be saved with artificial respiration and/or CPR. It's not dangerous to touch people after they've been struck.

• As soon as lightning is spotted, count the seconds until thunder is audible. If the count is fewer than 30 seconds, find shelter. Stay there until 30 minutes after the final clap of thunder or bolt of lightning.

• Get inside a building or closed vehicle as soon as a storm threatens. Do not stay out in the open.

• Avoid seeking shelter in small isolated sheds or other small structures in an open area.

• Don'’t use the phone, except in an emergency.

• Don'’t seek shelter near a natural lightning rod, such as a tall, isolated tree, a telephone poll or an elevated area.

• Get away from golf carts, motorscooters and bicycles.

• Put golf clubs down and take off golf shoes.

• If you are in a group of people, spread out.

• If your hair stands on end, lightning may be about to strike you; drop to your knees and bend forward, putting your hands on your knees.

- Source: The National Weather Service

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A middle school student was in critical condition Wednesday after he was struck by lightning during football practice.

Jesse Watlington, a student at Southwest Florida Christian Academy, was struck as he headed onto the field at around 4 p.m. He was transported to Gulf Coast Medical Center and then transferred to HealthPark Medical Center, according to Fort Myers Police Department spokeswoman Shelly Flynn. He was in critical condition Wednesday night.

“We’re calling all the members of our church family and all the community of our Southwest Florida Christian Academy to a time of prayer for this young man and for his complete (recovery),” Richard Powell, senior pastor of the school’s affiliated McGregor Baptist Church, said

The lightning that struck Watlington came out of nowhere, Powell said.

“When it happened it was a beautiful, blue sky day,” he said.

The school has no type of lightning sensor, Powell said. Students do not practice during approaching storms.

“As soon as the lightning flash took place, the coaches immediately called all the other students in,” Powell said.

He said he doesn’t know how many students were on the field when Watlington was struck, but several middle school students are badly shaken after witnessing the incident. Staff members are reaching out to comfort Watlington’s classmates, Powell said.

Tom Dougherty, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said it’s common for people to be struck by lightning when it doesn’t appear to be storming. Lightning can strike while the storm is still several miles away, he said.

“It gives you a false sense of security,” Dougherty said. “A lot of people get hit by lightning either right before the storm hits or right after it goes away.”

From 4-5 p.m. Wednesday, there were a few hundred lightning strikes from Bonita Springs up to Punta Gorda, Dougherty said. The strikes were a result of several storms moving north.

Southwest Florida is known as the lightning capitol of the country because of its tropical, humid climate, Dougherty said.

In 1989, a football player at Mariner High School died after he was struck by lightning. Tony McKenna, 17, was struck after he went out to do an extra drill after football practice ended.

A person struck by lightning can suffer fatal cardiac arrest at the time of the incident, or can die several days later from brain damage, according to the National Weather Service website. Other symptoms include short-term memory loss, personality change, intense headaches, nausea and difficulty sleeping.

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