Lightning kills one in Middletown

Spy House/Port Monmouth, New Jersey from Correy D. on July 19, 2010

July 20, 2010 2:52:43 PM PDT
The wild summer storms that hit Monday night created a mess around the New York area also claimed a life.

There was hail, lightning and downed trees, which left thousands without power.

Lightning struck a home on Monmouth Parkway in Middletown, New Jersey, causing a fire that scorched the roof and attic. Moments later, as onlookers gathered across the street to watch the fire, the crowd was also hit by lightning, leaving one dead and two others hurt.

Anthony Forte, 49, died from his injuries. James Schmidtberg, 54, and Patrolman Ryan Riffert of the Middletown Twp Police Department were also injured.

"Oh yeah. I didn't see that before," said lightning strike victim, Jim Schmidtberg.

Only a few pieces of bark of a 50 foot maple tree are missing.

You have to look real hard to tell something may have happened there.

"I thought the house blew up. I didn't know what happened because we were looking at the house with flames coming out," Schmidtberg said.

Three men were standing underneath the tree when it was struck by lightning in Monday night's rain storm in Middletown Township, New Jersey.

Two of them walked away.

"It was just a flash right around us. I could see nothing but white and my ears were ringing. And I saw him falling in like slow motion," Schmidtberg said.

49-year-old Anthony Forte never got up on his own.

He left the scene unconscious and was pronounced dead Tuesday afternoon.

But somehow, Jim Schmidtberg, wasn't hurt at all.

"It was like I was standing on an electrical cord, I was getting shocked. It felt like minutes but was probably a split second and then after that the heat just came. My foot was like it was on fire. They said if he didn't have on rubber soles on these shoes he wouldn't be talking to me. So I guess the rubber sandals helped me out," Schmidtberg said.

Both Forte and Schmidtberg had run outside to help their neighbors.

Kevin Pettigrew's home had been struck by lightning minutes earlier and his attic was on fire, with his wife and four children inside.

"Insane. I mean, insane. How could that possibly happen twice. But 10 minutes later or however long it was, for it to strike and to take out people is a tough thing to go through," said fire victim, Kevin Pettigrew.

Even two of EMT's who were on scene because of the fire felt the second jolt from the second lightning strike.

"I didn't see the ball, just kind of heard it. Kind of like somebody fell, like ouch, that kind of hurt," said Middletown First Aid EMT, Sara Monahan.

"I felt it in my legs. All of my knees and it just stopped," said Middletown First Aid EMT Cadet, Ryan Dowens.

But, it didn't stop them from trying to bring life back to Forte.

"It's very sad to see him go like that. Especially knowing that talking to him and he's gone the next. Gives you something to think about," Schmidtberg said.

In Orange County, lightning hit two homes in the village of Washingtonville. No one was hurt, but nearly a dozen families were forced into the raw weather outside as firefighters put out the flames.

"It was one of the most violent storms I've ever seen," one resident said. "A humongous lighting strike came down, the size I've never seen before. And it hit and then it was an explosion that sounded like the Hiroshima bomb."

In Yonkers, the winds were outright brutal, pulling down trees and snapping limbs. One tree slammed on top of a van and a house. Another shredded power lines across a road.

In Tuckahoe, the hail hammered down. It was almost impossible to see well enough to drive. There were trees down on the Saw Mill Parkway and across Westchester.

And once the storms roared across the sound, they hit Long Island hard, especially Suffolk County.

There was street flooding, lightning hits and more power lines knocked to the ground, leaving sparks flying.

The power outage situation is improving as crews work to restore the electricity.