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Lightning Kills 3 as Storms Hit Midwest

August 24, 2002|From Times Wire Services

WILLARD, Mo. — Three mourners at a rural graveside funeral were killed Friday when they were struck by lightning that crackled down a tree they took shelter under during a thunderstorm.

The three victims were Leroy Hendrix, 82; Billy J. Burgess, 66; and Joretta Gray, 71, said Chief Deputy Tom Martin of the Greene County sheriff's office. Gray's husband, Junior, 70, was in critical condition.

Charles Turk, who lives across from the cemetery, said he saw the lightning and a "big ball of fire" that came down a tree.

"I saw four people sort of fall over in slow motion, four elderly people. It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life," Turk told KTTS radio.

Darryl Walker, pastor at nearby Tatum Chapel Baptist Church, said about 30 to 40 people were at the graveside service.

Strong storms that roared through other parts of Missouri and Iowa also knocked out power and forced officials in some cities to cancel school.

Wind gusts of 85 mph were reported in Des Moines as the storms rolled in about 12:30 a.m., said Marc Russell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. As much as 4 inches of rain fell.

Kevin Waetke, a spokesman for Mid American Energy, said 50,000 customers were without power after the storm.

Some may be without power until today.

Des Moines schools closed after learning that power would not be immediately restored.

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