1. Breaking News

Eight injured in Clearwater Beach lightning strike

Eight people were injured when lightning struck Clearwater Beach Sunday afternoon.

One of those affected, a man in his 40s, was struck directly and suffered cardiac arrest, according to a news release from the city of Clearwater. He's currently in critical condition.

Five of the eight were taken to area hospitals. Four, including the man who was directly struck, went to Morton Plant Hospital.

One was taken to Tampa General Hospital to have burns treated.

The other three elected not to go to the hospital because they only felt mild tingling, Clearwater Fire Rescue district chief Greg Newland said. They were treated at the scene.

The injured were on the beach at the time of the strike, near Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, said Newland, who responded to the call Sunday.

Newland said his team of first responders was aided by a group of bystanders who rushed into the storm to bring the victims into Frenchy's — and out of harm's way.

Before first responders arrived, one of the bystanders performed CPR on the man who was directly hit, Newland said.

Meaghan Cowan and her boyfriend Joshua Matthews were wrapping up a meal at the restaurant when they saw the thunderstorm headed their way.

"People were walking in kind of slowly, lazily," Matthews, a real estate agent from New Hampshire, said of the nearby beach goers.

Suddenly, amid a light but steady drizzle, Matthews and Cowan saw the flash of light and heard the unmistakable crack of thunder a short distance away.

"It was so powerful," Cowan, an elementary school teacher in New Hampshire, said. "It sounded like a cannon exploded."

The couple didn't stick around for the worst of the storm. On their drive off of the beach, they saw a long line of emergency vehicles.

The lightning struck at about 12:40 p.m., ten minutes after beach lifeguards left their stations because of the bad weather, the Clearwater release said.

The storm formed quickly, Newland said, but it was well underway by the time the lightning struck.

Newland said the incident illustrates how important it is for beachgoers to be aware of extreme weather warnings.

"You don't have to be directly hit by lightning to be affected by it," Newland said.

This story was updated throughout the day Sunday.

Contact Kirby Wilson at or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.