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As we spend more time outdoors during the summer months, the federal government and the insurance industry are reminding us to be cautious during thunderstorms. After all, lightning kills more people each year - about 73 - than tornadoes and hurricanes. Thousands more are injured.

Last week lightning even struck and killed Betsy, a 6-year-old giraffe at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, as the animal roamed among tourists.

When it comes to people, the American Red Cross says about 400 who survive lightning strikes each year often suffer permanent disabilities, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness of joints, weakness and depression.

"Many people believe that lightning is infrequent and that it's not a significant risk, which is very misleading," said Rocky Lopes, senior associate for disaster education at the American Red Cross.

Lightning hits the earth an average 100 times per second - 8.6 million times a day. The United States alone receives up to 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year from as many as 100,000 thunderstorms.

A spark of lightning can reach more than five miles, reach temperatures of about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and contain 100 million electrical volts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the number of lightning strikes each year at 40 million, and says lightning is second only to flooding as a deadly natural disaster.

The NOAA details a whole list of major lightning events, including one in July 2001 in which lightning killed six baseball players as they improperly sought shelter in the dugout, according to the NOAA. In July 1998 five firefighters in Nevada were killed when lightning struck their fire truck. In June 1998 lightning struck an outdoor rock concert in Baltimore, Md., injuring 13 - even though lightning rods were installed.

While electrical storms cause more deaths on the East coast, more forest fires result in the West - lightning is responsible for more than 10,000 forest blazes a year. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning-related deaths; Pennsylvania in lightning-related damage.

When it comes to property damage, electrical storms ignite about $100 million dollars in losses each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In fact, lightning, fire and debris removal accounted for more than 35 percent of all homeowners claims in 2000 and cost insurers more than $8,500 per claim.

"Damage caused by lightning such as fire is covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies," said Jeanne Salvatore, III's vice president of consumer affairs.

III says it's important to purchase enough insurance to cover costs associated with rebuilding and replacing everything you own if fire strikes. Some insurance companies even offer discounts for sprinkler systems, smoke and burglar alarms that ring at an outside service, fire extinguishers, buildings constructed of fire-resistant materials, and highly rated fire departments.

The III also suggests you consider installing a lightning rod to protect property. They can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500 and can be tricky to install, but can help to protect property.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross offers the following tips for when a storm may be on the way:

  • Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder.
  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for the latest weather forecasts.

    When a storm approaches:

  • Find shelter in a building or car. Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles.
  • Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity so you'll need to unplug your appliances. Don't use the telephone or any electrical appliances. (Leaving electric lights on, however, does not increase the chances of your home being struck by lightning.)
  • Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other purpose.
  • Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressor, resulting in a costly repair job.
  • Draw blinds and shades over your windows. If windows break due to objects blown by the wind, the shades will prevent glass from shattering into your home.
  • If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately!

    If you're outside:

  • Go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects. Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding.
  • Be a very small target! Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible.
  • Do not lie flat on the ground - this will make you a larger target.

    And once the storm passes, stay away from storm-damaged areas.

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