On Sunday, a lightning strike blasted a watchtower where tourists were snapping selfies in the storm in Jaipur, India, tragically killing eighteen people.
There were a total of twenty-seven individuals at the peak of the twelfth-century Amer Fort, a popular tourist attraction, according to BBC News. Dozens have also perished in lightning strikes in Uttar Pradesh and Made Pradesh states.
The BBC reported that according to official statistics, some 2,000 Indians are killed by lightning strikes every year.
When the lightning struck Amer Fort, some reportedly jumped to the ground; a senior officer told the media that most of those who died at the tower were young. Video captured by Reuter's TV partner ANI showed empty shoes left by the dead.
"Many people died in front of our eyes. If people had gotten help and authorities had reached on time then [they would have been alive]," an eyewitness told ANI. "We brought many people down. We rescued the people who were still alive, those who were still breathing, and pulled some people out of the gorge."
Sunday alone saw 9 more deaths from lightning strikes reported across Rajasthan State, where Jaipur is located according to local media reports. At least another forty-one people died in the state of Uttar Pradesh, plus seven others in Madhya Pradesh.
Lightning strikes are not uncommon in India, where they're known to kill at least 2,000 citizens annually, especially in rural and agricultural regions. The peak season for lightning strikes is between June and September which coincides with India's monsoon season and is thought to be increasing in frequency according to the Indian Meteorological Department.
The IMD reported that lightning strikes have seemingly doubled in the country since the 1960s, with one of the main factors being climate change.
The chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi have announced compensation for the families of those who died.
The Prime Minister was briefed about the loss of lives and damages due to lightning in parts of Uttar Pradesh. An ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh each from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 would be given to the injured.
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) July 12, 2021
In June of this year, IMD scientists said lightning strikes were claiming more lives than cyclones.
"Between 1995 and 2014, we saw a jump of nearly 30 percent to 40 percent in lightning incidents in India. The number of deaths has also increased significantly between the 1990s and now," said SD Pawar, project director thunderstorm dynamics, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.
Pawar shared data showing a doubling of annual lightning deaths from 1,000 to over 2,500 between 1968 and 2019.
While Pawar's research indicated that lightning deaths were higher in areas where forest cover and tree cover had reduced, M. Mohapatra, director general of IMD said it is this lack of dense tree cover which could attribute to more lightning strikes.
"When there is dense tree cover, lightning strikes the tree and dissipates in the ground. But if the number of trees is less, people working outside are more exposed. In Marathwada, for example, we have noticed that tree cover is very thin. People working outside often run to a lone tree to take shelter underneath and are then struck by lightning," said Pawar, adding that trees should be avoided during thunderstorms.
"The use of electrical appliances has also increased significantly in the past thirty years - from mobile phones to TVs to power lines. Lightning can interfere with their electromagnetic field," Mohapatra said.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advised people that during lightning storms you should seek shelter inside a large building or car, get out of wide, open spaces, and away from exposed hilltops.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself without cover, you should make yourself as small as possible by crouching down with your feet together, hands on your knees and head tucked in, and lastly, stay away from open water and beaches.