WASHINGTON - A man and woman in her late seventies died on Friday, and two others were in critical condition Friday Aug 5 after being struck by lightning in a park near the White House as a severe storm swept through the US capital.
Two men and two women with critical life-threatening injuries are reported to have been seriously injured by the lightning in Lafayette Square, a small park across the street from the White House, shortly before 7 pm local time on Thursday, according to a statement from Washington's fire and emergency department.
All the victims were taken to local hospitals, but on Friday morning the Metropolitan Police confirmed that two of them -- 75-year-old Donna Mueller and 76-year-old James Mueller -- both from Janesville in Wisconsin -- had been pronounced dead.
The two adults are in critical condition, police said.
A White House spokeswoman said the Biden administration was saddened by the tragic loss of life. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that they were praying for those still fighting for their lives.
Fire and Emergency Services Department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said in a statement posted on social media that the US Secret Service and park police rushed to help the four after witnessing the strike.
The victims had sought shelter from the storm under one of the park's trees.
The trees are not safe places, Maggiolo told the Washington Post. There were photos posted by the department on social media showing multiple ambulances and at least one fire truck with flashing lights working at the scene.
He was quoted as saying, "I just couldn't believe it." He said he had also been sheltering under a tree when he saw the lightning strike across the park.
He said that the people weren't moving, so he and others ran over to give help.
The Washington Post said that the four were found about 30 m from the statue of former US president Andrew Jackson, which marks the center of the square.
The severe thunderstorm that hit the American capital on Thursday night was part of the strike.
The US weather service said that lightning killed an average of 27 people per year in the United States over the past decade.
Only about 10 per cent of people struck by lightning are killed by lightning, but many are left with lasting disability, including neurological damage.