MADISON, Wis. – A woman and child waiting at a bus stop at a flooded intersection were electrocuted Wednesday along with a man who tried to render aid when lightning hit a utility pole and caused a live wire to fall into the water, police said.
Police spokesman Mike Hanson called it a "horrific, tragic event" that killed the three.
The bus was approaching when the lightning struck and the wire landed in a flooded portion of the curb with deep water, electrocuting the woman and her young child.
A small child standing to get on the bus then tried to enter the water and was injured but survived, Hanson said.
"A hero on the bus witnessed what transpired and got off the bus to render aid. That hero also was electrocuted," Hanson said in a statement on the incident.
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The bus driver tried to get off the bus and help but was shocked and fell back into the vehicle.
The driver and child were taken to a hospital for treatment. Their condition was not known.
Hanson said in an interview that the word "horrible" summed up the incident.
"A lot of officers were affected because they couldn't jump in there and help because the wires were still live," he said. "There are some heavy hearts."
The victims' names weren't released pending notification of relatives. Autopsies were planned for Thursday afternoon and the names of the victims will be released after those are done, Hanson said.
The incident happened about 4:15 p.m. during a downpour that produced 2.2 inches of rain in an hour.
"All of a sudden I heard a big crash," said Shirley Martell, 53, who was coming out of a Walgreen Drug Store nearby. "The bus was smoking from the back end. I thought the tires were on fire at first."
Mildred Schultz, 84, who was in the store, said she came out to see "a heap of bodies, and there was a fire."
"Their clothes must have been on fire."
National Weather Service meteorologist Rusty Kapela described the deaths as "indirectly related" to the lightning, since the electricity that killed the three apparently came from the downed power line, not the lightning strike.
"It's obviously weather-related," he said. "If the water hadn't been there, nothing would have happened to these people, and if the lightning hadn't been there, nothing would have happened either."
The intersection in north Madison was closed after the incident, leading to a traffic backup of about two miles.
The storm hit with strong winds and downpours, temporarily knocking out power to 1,800 customers in that area of Madison, said Steve Kraus, spokesman for Madison Gas & Electric Co.
It was part of a series of storms that swept across the state, bringing winds clocked as high as 78 mph and rain that caused flash flooding on top of the flood problems already being experienced in parts of southern Wisconsin.
The strong winds knocked down tree branches and took power lines with them.
Brian Manthey, spokesman for the Milwaukee-based We Energy, said there were more than 25,000 utility customers without power by late afternoon in an area of southeastern Wisconsin from Fort Atkinson to Lake Michigan, and crews were working to get electricity restored.
The gust of 78 mph was recorded at 5:31 p.m. east of Timmerman Field in the Brown Deer area on Milwaukee's northwest side, the weather service said.
Also, a tree toppled by the storm fell across state Highway 83 near Hartford in Washington County.
Kapela said the storm activity was extremely widespread as it moved through the region.
"It's several families or a series of clusters, many, many clusters of storms," he said.
The weather service had a flash flood watch posted for parts of southern Wisconsin Wednesday night into early Thursday.
More showers and storms were predicted Thursday before ending in the northwest Friday and over the entire state Saturday.
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