CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A Tampa man and a lifeguard suffered indirect lightning strikes Thursday at Sand Key Park in Clearwater as another bolt started a small brush fire down the beach.
Rescuers say Samuel Sepulveda, 44, of Tampa, had been on the beach, just south of Clearwater Beach, around 11:30 a.m. Thursday. He has burns on his chest from the lightning. Largo Medical Center said he had to undergo surgery Thursday afternoon.
Lifeguard Jorge Perdomo was struck, too, but had only some tingling in an arm.
It's a warning that dangerous storms can pop up so fast.
"It was a big, black cloud. It had thunder on it. We started counting the lightning, when we saw the flash," Perdomo said.
Perdomo, who has been a lifeguard for a decade, says he's never seen a storm that seemed so far away pack such a powerful punch. Lightning struck around his lifeguard stand.
"My umbrella has a little metal, so I think it attracted the lightning a little bit. The electricity, I felt it on my arm," Perdomo said. "I was on the tower and heard some sizzling. It kind of hit my arm a little bit, and I shook my arm."
As Perdomo tried to recover from his numbness, beachgoers yelled for help some 25 yards away..
Rescue crews say Sepulveda took an indirect hit from the same bolt.
Perdomo's training kicked in. "These people started screaming, 'The guy got struck by lightning.' I ran down there with my cart, grabbed him and started helping him out," he said. "He was burned on the chest a little bit through the arm. I think the lightning just hit right beside him. The electricity just jumped on him, and that kind of burned him a little bit."
As the saying goes, lightning doesn't strike the same place twice but it was close on Thursday. Just down the beach, a second bolt started a brush fire in some palm trees and grass.
Crews rushed in from a nearby fire station to quickly handle both emergencies.
"We have a fire station that sits right outside here, so our response time for the lightning strike and the fire was minimum," said Clearwater Police and Fire Spokesman Rob Shaw.
"It's dangerous," says beachgoer Sandra Ofyngna. "That's why right away, we were in the water and got out."
Perdomo now knows firsthand why it's important for beachgoers like Ofyngna to heed the warning: when a storm rolls in, get off the beach.
"When you hear something coming, you just need to get out of the beach, out of the water for a little while. Lightning is no joke," Perdomo said.
"If you hear thunder, go indoors. You're close enough to be struck, lightning can reach out to you from as much as 7 miles away," Shaw said.
Lightning photos from around the world: