BRAMPTON, Ont. - Two young boys were rushed to hospital in critical condition Wednesday after seemingly harmless overcast skies flared abruptly and sent a lightning bolt crashing into a Toronto-area soccer field.
The mother of one of the boys, ages 4 and 6, was in stable condition following the lightning strike in Brampton, Ont., some 45 kilometres northwest of Toronto.
Allan Hughes, whose home backs onto the park, was left terribly shaken hours after he attempted to resuscitate one of the boys, who didn't appear to respond to CPR.
"There was nothing. There were no signs of life," Hughes, 25, said, pointing to a small but deep crater in the ground where he found the group lying.
"His little eyes were wide open, blue eyes just staring at me."
It was at about 2:30 p.m., when Hughes was sitting at home eating lunch when he was startled by an "abnormally loud bang."
"It was the loudest bang I've ever heard," he said.
Soon after he heard a woman screaming, and shouting "somebody call 911." Hughes dialled 911 on his cellphone as he jumped his own fence and ran to the middle of the field.
A woman was lying on the ground, but appeared to be moving slightly, and another man was already performing CPR on one of the boys, so he frantically tried to save the other. Paramedics arrived soon after and took over, Hughes said.
Another woman in the field - who witnesses said was a babysitter - and two other children appeared to be fine, he added.
Connie Denbok, whose home also borders the soccer field, said it was partly cloudy at the time with no rain, but there was a distant rumbling of thunder.
Then Denbok said she saw "what looked like a fireball outside my window," followed immediately by a clap of thunder and screaming. She hurried to the field and sat with the three who appeared unhurt, though she said they were understandably quite upset.
Both boys were in serious condition when they were transported to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, said Brad Bowie, a spokesman for the Peel Regional Paramedic Service.
The younger boy was transported by land ambulance with a critical care team while the older boy was airlifted out, Bowie said.
The woman was to remain at the Brampton Civic Hospital, where the three arrived at about 2:55 p.m.
The Brampton incident comes just days after a series of violent thunderstorms roared through the Toronto area, bringing heavy rains and numerous lightning strikes.
By late afternoon the park had been reopened to the public and games of a children's soccer league went ahead under sunny skies.
The storm, which rumbled over Brampton from the north started as a shower which flared abruptly mid-afternoon said Environment Canada Warning Preparedness Meteorologist Geoff Coulson.
"We can see some of these storms develop relatively quickly," he said. "Unfortunately in that time, say an hour and a bit, was when it moved over the field and caused a lightning strike in the Brampton park."
After rolling thunder and about 20 flashes of lightning, the storm weakened to a shower as it moved southwest towards the Oakville and Burlington areas.
Coulson said lightning either struck the woman and her children directly or hit nearby around 2:30 p.m.
"This was a relatively brief event," he said.
Those close enough to hear thunder when they see the skies go grey should seek the best shelter they can either in a well built structure or in a vehicle with a metal top, said Coulson.
People should remain in their shelters for 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to stay safe, he said.
- With files from Diana Mehta and Brian Pardoe in Toronto