5 struck by lightning in NJ, 1 dead

July 27, 2008 6:54:22 PM PDT
Severe weather turned deadly in New Jersey on Sunday, as lightning strikes killed one man and injured four other people in separate incidents. The lightning was contained in a series of strong, fast-moving thunderstorms that roared through the region, socking the state with heavy rains and damaging winds and dropping nickel-sized hail in Camden, Cape May, Gloucester and Monmouth counties. The severe weather also caused traffic delays and moderate to major flooding in many areas, and it forced a premature end to horse racing at Monmouth Park in Oceanport.

The storm also caused several sporadic power outages during the afternoon and early evening that left thousands of people across the state without power. However, officials said service had been restored to most customers by Sunday night.

In the first incident, a 38-year-old Elizabeth man was killed when he was struck by lightning around noon while he was on a beach with two other people at the Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, authorities said.

The two other victims - identified only as a man and a woman in their 30s - were taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune. Further details on their conditions were not immediately available Sunday night.

Brian Feeney, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said swimming is not allowed at that beach where the three were struck, so no lifeguards were present as the storm swept into the area. He said the three were part of a group of five people who were visiting the beach, but would not disclose further details.

The park's crowded beaches were quickly cleared after the lightning strike, Feeney said, but all were expected to reopen Monday.

In another incident, two people were injured when they were struck by lightning at about 1:15 p.m. while on a stretch of the Colton Court beach in Cape May, authorities said. However, it was not clear whether the two were injured simultaneously.

One of the injured was an on-duty lifeguard who was urging stragglers to leave the beach when he was struck. Authorities said the man - whose name was not released - was conscious when firefighters reached him, but they would not disclose further details on his injuries.

The other person, identified only as a juvenile female, was holding an umbrella when she was struck and sustained a hand injury, authorities said.

Both victims were taken to Cape Regional Medical Center, where they were treated and later released.

The storms also forced the cancellation of live horse racing at Monmouth Park, shortly after the fifth race was run, but simulcasting continued uninterrupted.

"The safety of our riders and our horses is our paramount concern," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which operates the track in Oceanport. "With the weather conditions we experienced, and no break in sight, we were left with not other option than to cancel the remainder of the card."

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