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By Maria Chercoles

RISMEDIA, July 15, 2008-(MCT)-Don’t tell Raymond Lakhan that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. The attic of Lakhan’s Coconut Creek, Fla., home has been hit by lightning twice in the past six years, most recently in June 2006, causing about $24,000 in damage. He’s hoping Bolt No. 3 isn’t out there with his address on it.

“The white flash, the noise. It was tremendous. I don’t think I ever heard a noise like that before,” said Lakhan, who wasn’t home for the first strike in August 2002, but was around for the next one.

While Lakhan’s repeat experience is fortunately rare, it’s a reminder Florida is the lightning capital of the nation and summer is peak season. Florida reported 11 deaths from lightning last year, the most of any state-three in Broward County and one in Palm Beach County. Texas followed with six, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lightning also caused $15 million damage last year in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In recent weeks, lightning caused about $30,000 in damage to a Miramar home and is suspected of starting a fire that forced 12 people to evacuate their condo complex in Tamarac.

South Florida homeowners can take some steps to protect their property and themselves but, in the final analysis, if lightning has your number, there’s not much you can do, experts say.

“The starting point with lightning behavior is that we don’t understand its behavior,” said Richard Kithil, president of the National Lightning Safety Institute. “You can use words such as random, capricious, and irregular.”

Homeowners can protect their houses by installing lightning rods in wooden homes that are not properly grounded, clearing tall trees away from property and having surge protectors to prevent a fire from appliances.

Will doing these things lower your home insurance rates? Not likely.

Insurance companies’ practices vary. They usually don’t offer discounts for homes with safety equipment, but some might give a discounted premium for safety additions if your home is determined to be at risk, particularly wooden homes, said Bert Gindy, vice president of government affairs at Florida Farm Bureau Insurance.

It’s not known how many claims are filed every year by people whose houses were hit by lightning; several insurance representatives said they don’t keep statistics because they consider them random “acts of God.” As a result, each case is treated individually.

Lakhan’s home now has surge suppressors and rods because his insurance company required them after the second hit to continue coverage.

Michelle Mitinger’s insurance company paid to install surge protectors in her West Lantana home after a lightning strike put two holes in her roof in 2004.

“It was loud enough to shake me out of bed,” said Mitinger, who moved to another house afterward.

Lakhan, 53, says he likes his neighborhood and doesn’t want to move. He has no idea why lightning hit his roof twice, and chalks it up to chance.

He arrived at his home after the first lightning strike and found a few broken appliances. Five days later, he discovered that the lightning strike had burned a square-foot hole in his roof. Luckily, Lakhan said, rain extinguished the fire.

Lakhan, who repairs and inspects fire alarm systems, said he didn’t take any precautions after the first strike because he thought lightning would not strike his home twice.

Four years later, lightning surprised him as he was getting ready for work. It was raining and he was about to run to his car.

The lightning bolt struck the exact same place on his roof that the first one hit. This time, a fire broke out.

Lakhan and Mitinger agree their experiences taught them to respect lightning and therefore to seek shelter immediately during a storm.

“I learned that you always have to be prepared. You will never know where lightning will hit,” Lakhan said. “Now I hide immediately. You don’t have to be close to the storm to be hit … I could barely hear the storm before lightning hit my house.”

© 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.