Reports of a Haiku man who was struck by lightning Monday evening during Tropical Depression Flossie's brief but furious rampage on Maui have been all the talk on news and social media outlets, but a family member of the man said Tuesday that the incident may have been exaggerated.
Moments before 6:50 p.m. Monday, 47-year-old Mark Minobe was inside his Haiku home putting a bowl in the kitchen sink when he reached out his hand to turn on the faucet, according to his wife, Joslyn, who was in the house with Minobe during the storm.
As soon as Minobe's hand made contact with the faucet, he saw a streak of blue light come from the faucet and connect with his hand, shocking him, his wife said. He immediately fell to his knees but was able to walk to the living room after a few moments to tell his wife what had happened.
Lightning from Tropical Depression Flossie hits a house in Kahului on Monday afternoon. The lightning strike appeared to be in the vicinity of a strike that bore a hole through a Kahului resident’s roof.
CAMEO KUSUNOKI photo
His hand was numb for about five minutes, she said.
She took Minobe's pulse, which was about 180 beats per minute. After a few minutes, his pulse was still racing, so she called 911.
"When I called them, I specifically said that he was shocked," Mrs. Minobe told The Maui News on Tuesday. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, she said she listened closely to their police scanner.
"The first dispatch said he (Minobe) was shocked, but then I heard the second dispatch say he was struck by lightning and the third call said he was electrocuted," she said. "It escalated ridiculously."
Makawao firefighters responded to a report of a male struck by lightning at a home along West Kuiaha Road in Haiku at 6:50 p.m. but were canceled by responding medics while en route, according to Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga.
Mrs. Minobe said she followed up the next morning on the TAGUMAWatch Facebook page, which has become a popular outlet for local news updates, and saw commenters had made all sorts of allegations, saying that her husband had been outside in an open field when he was struck.
"He wasn't outside. He wasn't being reckless. . . . The coconut wireless just went berserk," she said.
Minobe was transported to the hospital after the incident, but his wife said that was more of a precaution because he was diabetic and had a history of high blood pressure. Within an hour, the couple was back home in Haiku.
"Basically, we're just trying to calm this thing down," Mrs. Minobe said. "But we want people to know that you're not necessarily safe in your house (during lightning storms). I never would've known that you could get shocked just from turning on your faucet."
Emergency responders also received reports of a house and a building, both in Kahului, being struck by lightning between 6 and 7 p.m. on Monday, Mainaga said.
While being indoors certainly reduces the risk of harm during lightning strikes, there still are precautions that should be taken, according to Michael Cantin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"The lightning doesn't have to hit your house," Cantin said. "If the electricity hits the ground around your house and gets into the pipes, the metal and water in the pipes conduct electricity, and you can end up getting a shock."
No one has been killed by lightning in Hawaii since 1940, Cantin said. There have been reports of people being struck by lightning, but the majority were not killed, though they may have been left with debilitating issues like nerve or brain damage.
"Overall, Flossie could've been much worse," Cantin said.
On Maui, the worst of the tropical storm, which was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday afternoon, was over within two hours. While Flossie still packed a punch with 35-mph winds and a torrent of rain on the island, Cantin said conditions would have been "much worse" if Flossie had not been weakened and broken apart by wind shear as it neared the islands.
The National Weather Service had some safety tips for lightening storms:
* Stay indoors.
* As soon as thunder is heard, immediately move to safe shelter or a four-walled structure with an enclosed roof.
* Stay away from windows and doors, as well as concrete floors and walls.
* Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment in direct contact with electricity.
* Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
* Stay away from tall objects like trees, as they become a target for lightning strikes.
* Those unable to get indoors should take shelter inside a metal-topped vehicle with the windows up.
For more information, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.