Saturday, 2:15 PM
By James Vaznis, Globe Staff, and Emma Brown, Globe Correspondent
Ten soccer game spectators were injured — four of them critically — in Dorchester today when they sought refuge under a gigantic tree that was struck by lightning during a flash storm.
The victims, all males, had burns consistent with lightning strikes, authorities said. The youngest victim was 13 years old, while the oldest was in his 40s. Some of the victims were given cardiopulmonary resuscitation as they were taken away, witnesses said.
“They sought the quickest shelter, but unfortunately, lightning strikes the tallest object, and that was the tallest tree in the area,” Michael Bosse, an EMS deputy supervisor, said at a press conference at Boston Medical Center this evening. Later he added, “I’ve been on the job 27 years, and I’ve never had 10 people struck by lightning at once.”
The storm tore through the Boston area about 3:30 p.m. and dropped nearly an inch of rain in less than an hour, according to the National Weather Service. Wind speeds in some parts of Greater Boston hit 45 miles an hour. The storm downed trees and power lines, washed out streets, and knocked out traffic lights, weather service and police officials said. Several boats in Boston Harbor sent out distress signals. One person was injured when lightning struck a restaurant in Hingham. Part of Interstate 93 flooded near Columbia Road, backing up traffic for miles.
The storm arrived in the midst of a tense, tied game of a local soccer league at Franklin Field. Players continued the game, while many spectators fled for shelter, just as the wind kicked up and the rain seemingly came down sideways, witnesses said.
Some said the lightning striking the tree sounded like a bomb, and that the bolt almost appeared to be purple.
The tree, the tallest object in the immediate area, stood at the edge of Franklin Field and a sidewalk on Talbot Avenue.
Jose Herrera, 53, was watching the game from beneath the tree when he heard a thunderous noise about 3:30 p.m. and saw people falling all around him. He said he was surprised he was not hit since he was holding an umbrella.
‘‘A couple of people fell on my feet,’’ Herrera said. ‘‘I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do.’’
Many people fled from the tree, while others rushed to pull the injured away, even as windswept rain pummeled them and lightning continued to light up the sky. Nearly all the injured were unconscious, witnesses said.
Some people performed CPR while waiting for ambulances to arrive. ‘‘It was still raining hard,’’ Rivera said.
The victims were taken to Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Children’s Hospital.
On average, about 400 people a year are struck by lightning, said Gould of the National Weather Service.
Today’s victims, she said, were in a tough situation: While standing under a tree during a lightning storm is a no-no, standing on a soccer field can be equally as dangerous.
“Soccer fields are flat, and generally there are no trees around so people standing on the fields are the tallest thing,” Gould said.
The best thing to do, she said, is seek protection inside a building or a car. If neither option is available, Gould said the best thing to do is to crouch to the ground in a ball while only having your feet actually touch the ground.
“You want to have as little contact with the ground as possible,” she said, “so there’s a smaller chance of lightning traveling to you.”
More thunderstorms are expected tomorrow.
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