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The weekend lightning strike that killed one person and injured several others on Venice Beach got a lot of attention but the only thing unusual about it was that it happened in Los Angeles, which doesn't get many thunderstorms.

In much of the country, however, thunderstorms are common and lightning strikes routinely kill and injure hundreds of people each year. The Los Angeles death was the 15th in the U.S. this year. 

Beaches, athletic fields and other flat, open spaces are particularly dangerous.

So what's the safest place to be if you're outdoors? The simplest answer, according to the National Weather Service, is that there is no completely safe place outside during a thunderstorm -- the best place to be is inside a building.

If you can't get inside, a car or truck with windows and doors closed offers the best protection from a lightning strike, since the tires offer insulation that keeps the electrical current from penetrating the car. A fully-enclosed structure, such as an outdoor restroom facility at a park or beach, also offers good protection.

Open structures such as picnic shelters and sports dug-outs are not safe and should be avoided, NWS says.

Safety inside

Inside a home or office, avoid corded phones and electronic equipment that is plugged into electrical power or your computer network. It's also a good idea to avoid plumbing fixtures, which can provide a route for the current from a lightning strike to enter a building. 

Your valuable appliances and home electronics -- computer, TV, etc. -- are vulnerable to damage from lightning and, unfortunately, there's not much you can do to protect them. Once a storm has started, it's too late to run around pulling plugs, and surge protectors aren't generally able to withstand a direct lightning strike. They're designed to protect against surges caused by nearby storms or equipment malfunctions, not direct lightning strikes.

Risk management analysts refer to lightning strikes as "low probability/high consequences calamities." In other words, they don't happen often but when they do, they cause a lot of damage. If you're unfortunate enough to suffer a direct strike to your home, the damage can be both extensive and expensive. While it should be covered by most homeowners insurance policies, you'll likely end up paying a hefty percentage out of pocket.

Just ask Dan of Muskegon, Mich., whose house was hit by lightning. 

Had Frankenmuth Insurance with 3 cars and 2 homes for about 11 years. Filed one petty claim all those years,

"Lightning damage, blown holes in my walls, blown switches out of the walls, wiring, etc.," Dan said in a June 2014 ConsumerAffairs review of Frankenmuth Insurance. "Burned up my television, computer, phone, all my cable equipment, etc."

Dan said the damage came to $3,700 but after a $500 deductible and depreciation, he received only $1,799. 


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