CLEARWATER, Fla. — Eight people were injured, one critically, when lightning struck the beach behind a Clearwater restaurant Sunday afternoon.

  • Man went in to cardiac arrest, in critical condition at hospital
  • Lifeguards had cleared towers minutes before due to weather
  • Beachgoers carried victims to restaurant, where medics treated them

One man in his 40s on the beach behind Frenchy's Rockaway Grill was directly struck by the bolt just after 12:30 p.m., according to city officials. Seven other people who were near the man were injured.

The man went into cardiac arrest and was taken to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater. Three other people were also transported there.

One patient went to Tampa General Hospital with burns. The three others refused transport to hospital.

Witnesses said some started to pack up when they heard thunder, but the storm came on quickly.

"A big loud boom... like the strike, and it hit the dude, and he just fell," Quimari Shelton said. "You could feel the lightning strike through the ground on the whole beach."

"The one gentleman, his whole shirt was burned," Ryan Tuttle said. "There was actually a hole in his shirt where the lightning struck, so there was no clothing there at all."

Beachgoers carried the victims into the restaurant just a few yards away. That's where medics showed up to treat them and rush them to hospitals.

"He just instantly fell," Kanijah Everson said. "Then the girls that were with him, they fell too, but they came back up and they tried to get up and they tried to walk but they fell back down, like their legs... They couldn’t walk."

City officials said beach lifeguards cleared their towers at about 12:30 p.m. because of bad weather, and fire rescue officials got a 911 call about a lightning strike less than 15 minutes later.