That day, 18th August 2002, a bright, bright, sunny day, I’d helped a friend put concrete floors in his house and came home feeling totally shattered. I was alone at the time, my husband being in Vienna and my son was in the UK. I decided to get straight in the bath and have a good soak. I got into my pyjamas and went to the kitchen to put yesterday’s leftover dinner in the microwave. Whilst it was heating, I went into the living room to say make a fuss of the cat. I was leaning against the corner of the wall, cat over my shoulder, when there was the most incredible explosion. I found myself hurled 10 meters to the other side of the room. As I lay there motionless for several seconds, I began to smell an acrid smell and adrenaline kicked in. I leapt to my feet, grabbed the house phone and my mobile, shut the door behind me, into the hallway which was full of smoke and left the house. I ran, bare feet, still in my pyjamas, 300 meters down my gravel drive and shouted for my neighbour across the road, all the time trying desperately to phone the fire brigade. My neighbour appeared very quickly and ran back with me. He opened the front door to have a look, saw the smoke and told me that we must stay outside. Not that I could hear anything, the explosion had made me totally deaf. I was frantic at this point, not only was I deaf but my two budgies were in there and my cat was missing.
The spot where I stood and where the tile exploded under my right foot. This is where the lightning arced.
The next 10 minutes waiting for the fire brigade seemed like an absolute eternity. Meanwhile I was vomiting outside with the shock. The neighbour also noticed that there was a huge hole in the roof where the chimney had been. Finally, the pompiers arrived and only then was I able to have a look and see the damage. There was no fire, all that had happened was that all the plastic coating on the wiring had melted, hence the acrid smell, but because we’d just had the house rewired, it did not catch fire. The real shock was when we entered the kitchen. The complete chimney breast had disappeared, there was hardly any ceiling and we could see right up to the first floor. Most of the floor tiles had blown up and there were chards sticking out everywhere. They were in what was left of the ceiling, in the walls in the window frames, in the furniture and even inside the cupboards. All the cupboard doors had been blown open with the power of the explosion. The cast iron insert was split in half. There was debris everywhere. The fuseboard was running down the wall, lamps had literally exploded, all the sockets had blown out of the wall. It really looked like a bomb had hit the place.
The covers were blown off the sockets and the wires burned.
This is looking up at the kitchen ceiling, the plasterboard was blown off and the floor above was sticking up.
The firemen cleared out most of the debris and one of them told me that I must go and see the doctor to get a thorough check up. He also told me that if I had been in the kitchen (which I had been 1 minute earlier), I would have died of horrible shrapnel wounds from the chards of tiles. That was really scary. He also told me that I had been hit by an extremely rare form of lightning which only occurs when all the conditions are just right. It is always a single bolt and never during a storm.
The floor upstairs showing the planks all sticking up, half a socket from the lamp and the lamp shade.
My neighbour later told me that when it hit, he had just been getting out of his car having arrived back from work and was thrown to his knees. This was more than 300 meters from my house! (We lived in a very rural area of France which is very isolated).
The main thrust of the lightning had travelled down the ynox tube in the chimney, along the pipes and cabling under the floor, blowing up the tiles along the way, then up along the metal corner strips of the wall, blowing off the plaster. It had arced into the lounge where I had been standing in bare feet, travelling along the metal strip on the corner of the wall against which I was leaning. The tiles exploded underneath my feet which had thrust me in the air.
The chimney breast which was blown apart together with the ceiling. The cast iron insert fire had also cracked clean in 2.
I was advised to leave that night and stay with friends but I didn’t want to leave without knowing where my cat was. I was still walking outside calling for him at midnight, by now in the pouring rain but to no avail. I just assumed that he had crawled into a little hole somewhere and was waiting for the rain to stop. I was so exhausted and by now, my feet were killing me, so I decided I had to go to bed. As I went upstairs, avoiding the gaping hole in the floor above the kitchen, I realised that the firemen had closed all the doors to the bedrooms. I opened them, one by one and when I got to my son’s room, the cat appeared from under the bed!! He was still totally petrified but no physical damage. The budgies were very quiet for several hours but they too recovered very quickly after the shock.
Some of the tiles that blew up in the kitchen.
The next day, I went to see the doctor but by now it was pretty obvious that my feet were burned. On top of that, I had done damage to them running on the gravel driveway in bare feet. I could hardly stand up. Although bruised and very stiff all over, the only real damage seemed to be my feet. The doctor told me that there wasn’t much that could be done and that I had nerve damage which may or may not heal given time. Days later, all the skin blistered and came off my feet. To this day, if I have been standing for a while, I struggle to walk the next day. I certainly could never do a job now where a lot of standing was necessary. It also took 3 days for my hearing to come back properly but at least it did.
Thankfully we were very well insured. Although the house had only just been renovated and was up for sale, it took a whole year to get it back to the condition it was before. I did get all new electrical appliances so that was a bonus.
My life and perspective on life has totally changed since that moment. When you’re that close to death, you realise that life is really for living as it could be taken away in a flash. I used to worry about little things but now, nothing much phases me. I’m actually glad it happened because it has seriously improved my life. It was the day that I became an artist.
(The photos were taken at least a day after the event by a friend. Most of the rubble had been cleared away by the fire brigade and some cleaning up was done by friends. I was not in a fit state to take photos myself for several days.)