2011-07-14 / Local & State

Families Survive Lightning Strike

By Jennifer Reeger

IRWIN, Pa. ( AP) – Marisue Morgan woke up about 2 a.m. Sunday to the sound of rain hitting the white canvas tent she and her family were sleeping under during a Civil War re-enactment in Gettysburg.

At first, her only worry was her family’s belongings getting soaked. Their car was too far away to run to, so they decided to stay put in the tent. But as lightning began to flash and thunder began to roll, Morgan felt uneasy.

“I had a weird feeling right around then that we weren’t in a safe place,’’ said Morgan, 45, of North Huntingdon. “All of a sudden, there was a flash of light. ... It was just the brightest flash you’d ever see, and the loudest noise imaginable.’’

Lightning had struck the tent, sending Morgan, her husband, Randy Lee Morgan, 61, and son Ben, 11, to the hospital along with Moon natives Lucilia and Erich Griffey, who were sleeping in a nearby tent.

All of them were camping in a field in Freedom Township that is frequently used by re-enactors and where part of the movie “Gettysburg’’ was filmed. Both families are members of Carpenter’s Battery, a Confederate re-enactment group.

While Ben Morgan suffered no injuries in the strike, his mother suffered a second degree burn of her left arm and has lingering hearing problems, while his father still feels pain in his left arm. Erich Griffey, 30, suffered superficial burns, while his wife, who is six months pregnant, is feeling the aftereffects.

“I remember a bright, white light and an intense pain,’’ said Lucilia Griffey, 30, of York County. “It was like burning and tingling and numbness in my legs and my back. I couldn’t move for a couple of seconds. Then I could move, but I couldn’t feel my legs for a couple of minutes. My ears were ringing and I had a buzzing in my head and my skin was burning. When the ringing in my ears went away, I realized I was screaming.’’

Through her own muddled hearing, Marisue Morgan heard Griffey’s screams. Knowing the young woman was pregnant – and being a new grandmother herself – she ran out of her tent to yell for someone to call 911.

All the while, she was trying to get her sweater off her body. The lightning had seared part of it to her arm, leaving behind a burn.

Randy Morgan, whose left arm was touching the ground at the time of the strike, couldn’t feel his arm at first.

“It’s like it went numb, like there was nothing there,’’ he said. Then came the pain.

Ben helped him to the front of the tent. “I just knelt over a chair because I couldn’t stand the pain. It was so intense.’’

The lightning that struck the Morgans’ tent traveled through the ground, striking the Griffeys as they lay on the ground with their arms touching.

Others in the campground, including Griffey’s in-laws, felt tingling but were not injured.

“It was just that little tingle, like when you plug in the toaster kind of shock, but nothing major,’’ said Christina Griffey, 27, of Moon, Lucilia’s sister-in-law.

Lucilia Griffey, known to her family as Lu, said she was frantic about her baby. Hospital testing revealed no lasting problems are expected for mother or child.

Griffey said she has a mark in the shape of a “Z’’ on her back, her skin is sensitive, her legs are sore and her ears pop every time she yawns. But she counts herself lucky.

“It was so scary,’’ she said. “We’re so lucky when you think about all the things that could have happened.’’

Marisue Morgan spent Sunday night in the hospital while Randy and Ben returned to the campground to clean up, then spent the night in a hotel.

When Randy and Ben Morgan went back to tear down the tent, they found a hole had been burned through Marisue’s cot and a wooden tent post had been splintered by the strike.

The Morgans, too, consider themselves fortunate. Randy and Ben often like to sleep with their heads to the front of the tent where the lightning struck but they didn’t that night.

They wonder what would have happened if the lightning had struck the area where the re-enactors keep their cannons and black powder.

“We are very cautious with things but we never think what Mother Nature can do, and it is surprising,’’ Marisue Morgan said.

But the Morgans won’t let the incident impact their participation in re- enactments, something Ben’s love of history brought them to do two years ago.

“ We’re coming back,’’ Randy Morgan told his fellow re-enactors. “This ain’t going to stop us.’’

But next time, they might make that run for the car.

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