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GEMA urges residents to use caution during summer storms

Photo by Shawn Wheat

Photo by Shawn Wheat

COVINGTON -- Lightning never strikes twice in the same place, the saying goes, but sometimes, once is all it takes.

Georgia had the highest number of lightning-related deaths last year, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, and there have been 26 deaths from 1995 to 2010 in the state, according to the National Weather Service. Most lightning deaths occur in the summer months, usually when people are caught outside during a storm.

Sunday begins Lightning Safety Week and GEMA officials are asking the public to take summer squalls seriously and protect themselves. Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning, GEMA cautions. Here are some tips to be safe:

* If a storm is approaching, find shelter in a sturdy building or a car with a metal roof. Keep all windows closed.

* Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.

* Avoid taking a bath or shower or running water.

* Draw blinds and shades over windows, which will help prevent glass from shattering in your home.

* Turn off the air conditioning. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressor.

* If caught outside and unable to find shelter, go to a low-lying open place away from trees, poles or metal objects.

* If someone is struck by lightning, he or she carries no electrical charge and can be handled safely. Call 911. Learn first aid and CPR by taking an American Red Cross First Aid and CPR course. To find a course, visit www.redcross.org.

GEMA also recommends regularly monitoring storms by following local forecasts and purchasing a NOAA weather radio.

GEMA officials say that NOAA weather radios are as crucial to a family's safety as smoke detectors, yet 74 percent of the state's population has not purchased or programmed a radio.

"If you are sleeping or away from a computer or TV, your NOAA weather radio may be the only thing that will alert you to advancing threats, which are likely during hurricane season and year-round," said Charley English, director of GEMA/Homeland Security.

Through July 15, Georgians can visit www.ready.ga.gov and create a Ready Profile for a chance to win one of 200 radios. Those who enter will also get a personal preparedness plan, as well as a customized checklist of emergency supplies.