Two Killed, 73 Houses Destroyed by Lightning in Northwest

Officials said two people were killed on Tuesday by separate lightning strikes in Pailin and Kompong Cham provinces as the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology issued a warning about seasonal storms spreading across the country.

Searing temperatures and the approach of wet season ignited the first big lightning storms of the season, causing injuries and damage to property across five northwestern provinces on Tuesday. By the weekend, these conditions are expected to spread across virtually all the country, including Phnom Penh.

“[Cambodia] will experience low air pressure levels that can cause rain, thunder and lightning storms, and strong gusts of wind,” the ministry’s warning says. It asks people to be vigilant in the event of a storm.

In Pailin province on Tuesday, 36-year-old Bros Vuthy was struck and killed by lightning in Sala Krao district as he used his mobile phone during a light rain shower, said Keo Vy, cabinet chief for the National Committee for Disaster Management.

And in Kompong Cham province’s Koh Sotin district, 56-year-old Chan Heng was killed, and his 27-year-old son, Heng Theary, was injured when they were struck by lightning as they rode a motorbike during a rainstorm.

“[Lightning] is a natural disaster, and we always try to educate people living in the countryside to be careful, especially during rainy season,” Mr. Vy said, adding that earlier this month another man, in Battambang province, died after being struck by lightning.

Some 25 houses were destroyed Tuesday night and another 125 damaged during a storm that raged across six of Banteay Meanchey province’s  nine districts. At the same time, three people were injured and 48 houses were destroyed in Kompong Cham province. Oddar Meanchey and Battambang provinces also recorded minor property damage. Mr. Vy warned that bad weather will likely cause more damage as the week wears on.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates in the world of lightning deaths.  According to the disaster management committee, the rate is 7.8 deaths per million people. Last year, lightning killed 103 people with the majority of deaths in rural areas where farmers often work in the open without shelter. Many Cambodians are also seriously injured by lightning each year, however there is no authoritative government data available on lightning-related injuries.

A new report on climate change by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts more frequent and intense heat waves and increases in heavy rain and temperature. According to the panel’s prior report, in 2007, lightning is increasing globally in direct response to rising temperatures.

A recent report by BBC News says the death toll from lightning may in fact be higher than other weather-related disasters like floods, landslides and droughts. The impact is attenuated by the isolated nature of a lightning strike, and by the superstitious perception that its victims are star crossed.

Politicians “immediately respond to disasters that impact many people at the same time,” Arun Kulshrestha, head of the Center for Science and Technology of the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries, told the BBC. “The total lightning casualty figure may be more than that of other disasters, but they are always in ones and twos, so politicians’ positions are not at stake, and governments don’t fall.”

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