WHEATFIELD, N.Y. (WIVB) – If there’s one place Theresa Szelest thought she’d be safe from lightning, it was inside her house.
But Szelest was grazed by a bolt of lightning that came through the roof of her Wheatfield home and into her living room, as she sat on her couch about 1:30 Wednesday afternoon.
“My mother was sitting right in front of me, my one leg was up on her lap and, great mom she is, she was rubbing my feet for me, ’cause I had a stressful day today,” Szelest told News 4. “All of a sudden, the rain started and there was a bad bolt of lightning in the backyard. And I said, ‘Wow, that was really close!’ And then another strike came, and it was a loud noise, and she said she saw my head go backwards. And then the plaster was falling, and she felt a jolt go down my leg into her hands.”
It so happens that one of Szelest’s neighbors is a volunteer firefighter.
“He was standing in his driveway looking towards our house, and he saw the lightning hit the roof,” Szelest said. “And he came running over to the house to make sure everybody was okay and make sure it wasn’t on fire.”
Paramedics, the St. Johnsburg Fire Company and Niagara County Sheriff’s deputies arrived within minutes. Szelest said she was in shock.
“Actually, I got really cold and just couldn’t stop shaking… At one point too they realized my feet, my toes, turned purple. Halfway up my feet was like, purple,” she said. “But as I was relaxing and doing breathing, everything came back to normal.”
To everyone’s surprise, there was no smoke and no fire, just a small hole in the living room ceiling. Szelest said the electricity didn’t go out, or even flicker.
“You know, the house took the hit and then it came through and it grazed me,” she said.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, New York ranks as the eighth deadliest state for lightning strikes, with 138 fatalities between 1959 and 2011.
Statistically, the National Weather Service says the average American’s odds of being struck by lightning in his or her lifetime are one in 12,000.
“The ambulance man, he’s been on the job for 40-something years. He said this is the first time he’s ever experienced this,” Szelest said. “It’s funny, because I had just said to my mom, ‘Oh, isn’t it beautiful? I love the thunder and lightning.’ It’s just something, you know, you like to watch. I don’t think I’ll be saying that anymore.”
Deaths caused by lightning are becoming less frequent in the United States. To date, there have been 16 lightning fatalities in 2014. There were 23 lightning deaths in 2013 – the lowest number recorded since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1940.