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Lightning produces frights and one fire

Two Publix employees in Clearwater say that lightning stunned them. A house fire in Dunedin is ignited by a bolt.

Published July 28, 2006

Lightning bolts from a fierce line of thunderstorms Thursday afternoon started a fire that displaced a Dunedin family and were believed to have delivered minor shocks to two people in a Publix parking lot in Clearwater.

No one was seriously injured in either incident, authorities said.

Publix meat manager Michael Miley was spending his lunch hour in his car Thursday in the store's parking lot on Island Way. Then electricity started crackling through the sky.

About 1:55 p.m., Miley, 46, got out of his car, and a blond Publix cashier got out of hers, also to walk back to the store.

Then came a white burst.

"There was a big flash. I felt a surge through my bones. My fingers felt all tingly, and the hair was standing on my arms," Miley said.

A lightning bolt apparently had hit somewhere close by. Miley thinks an electrical charge along the ground surged into him.

But Miley decided to just shake it off. He walked inside the supermarket, figuring that going back to work would lessen the numbness he felt in his arms and legs.

The cashier, who is in her mid 20s, also walked back to the store. But she was crying.

"I feel really weird," Miley recalled her saying.

"She said she thought she was struck by lightning," said Publix customer service manager Mary Cherry, who called 911. Paramedics examined the cashier in the store's back room.

"She was not sure she was hit by lightning. She just felt she thought she was," said Clearwater fire division Chief Steve Strong.

The woman, whose name was not released, was taken to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater. Her condition was not available Thursday.

And less than two hours after the incident, Miley was still at work. The numbness had gone away, though he had a headache.

"Yeah, regular bone skinless," Miley told an employee.

In Dunedin about 2:30 p.m., Doug Worrell took a break from researching car loans online and walked to his living room for a nap on the couch.

Thirty seconds later, he heard a loud bang and saw a flash outside the computer room of his Dunedin home.

"It looked like a big bright ball," said Worrell, 31.

A bolt of lightning struck his house near a spot he had just walked by.

He jumped up and walked out back to investigate. He didn't find any smoke, but called 911 anyway.

Arriving at 2:40 p.m., the first engine saw smoke coming from the peak of the roof and ridge vents. Nine units from Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor responded to the scene, and the fire was under control by 2:59 p.m., Deputy Fire Marshal Kelly Intzes said.

Firefighters broke away the ceiling to attack the fire, leaving a 5-foot-wide hole outside the computer room, where the lightning struck, and three other holes in the ceiling nearby.

Power to the house was turned off by Progress Energy.

Hours later, pieces of the ceiling and insulation coated the kitchen countertop and nearby floors, which were covered by tarps.

Friends and family arrived to console Worrell, his wife, Cyndi, and son Brian.

And Red Cross workers offered food and lodging for the next few days.

Intzes estimated about $4,000 or $5,000 in damages but said electrical and structural inspections were also planned.

Worrell, who was home from work recuperating from surgery on his left leg, said he was glad he was there to prevent further damage to his house. But he was still shaken by the close call.

"Trust me, it's no fun when lightning hits 20 feet away," Worrell said.

[Last modified July 28, 2006, 01:35:35]

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