Sixteen people were struck dead by lightning on Saturday in Nyaruguru District. All but one were worshipping at Gihembe Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nyabimata Sector.
Another one was killed from a farm in Ruheru Sector in the same district.
The victims were laid to rest yesterday.
At least 140 worshipers, who were injured from the same church were transferred to nearby health facilities. The deceased were all buried yesterday in Nyabimata cemetery, according to Collette Kayitesi, the vice mayor for social affairs in Nyaruguru.
Kayitesi said the district will incur all the costs of treatment as they did the cost of the burial of the 16 who died.
Hundreds of worshipers were gathered at the church during a Sabbath service that had been graced by a visiting choir, according to church elder Emmanuel Ruremesha, who survived the lightning strike.
During an interview with The New Times, Ruremesha, who was seated at the altar, said that the rain that brought the thunderbolt began at around mid-day when the service was at its prime.
“Normally, we finish at mid-day sharp but because of the visiting choir, we had extended the day’s programme so as to accord more time for the visiting choir. By the time it started raining we had just welcomed the preacher to the pulpit,” Ruremesha told The New Times.
Ruremesha says they had heard lightning strikes in the district the previous days so he warned worshippers not to use phones in church during the rain.
“Suddenly, there was a big bang, I saw a thunderbolt strike worshippers. We all fell down for minutes,” he said.
Marceline Mukamana, who lives near the church, was the first to arrive at the scene following the strike.
Mukamana, a community health worker, says she had just returned home for lunch when it started raining and then heard the lightning.
Minutes later, she heard a woman crying for help and ran thinking the church had collapsed upon people only to find it intact but all people inside strangely lying on the ground.
“It was very terrifying to see. I started moving back with my legs shaking. I realised I had to go home for my phone to call local authorities,” said Mukamana.
She called sector and district authorities who also called for ambulances from Munini Hospital to help.
Dr Innocent Ndebeyaho, of Munini Hospital, says 70 people were received at Munini Hospital and 70 at Muganza and Nyabimata hospitals.
“Those in health centres have been discharged with only four remaining while at Munini hospital 58 have been discharged, one transferred to University Teaching Hospital of Butare and eleven are steadily recovering.
Among the eleven still at Munini Hospital is a man who lost his wife in the lightning strike.
According to Ndebeyaho, the patient was yesterday helped to go to the cemetery to bury his wife “because he insisted he couldn’t afford to miss the burial of his wife. He was taken there in an ambulance with doctors.”
Response to the disasters
Alphonse Hishamunda, the acting Director of Risk Reduction and Preparedness Unit at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDMAR), says the ministry have embarked on a campaign to sensitise Rwandans about lightning, through different platforms.
“It’s so sad that our people have died, we call upon all Rwandans to stand warned as we have always advised of lightning happenings because it’s rainy season,” he said, urging the general public to install lightning rods, especially in placed where many people meet.
Concerning the Nyaruguru lightning incident, Hishamunda said there are very few cases where lightning strikes people indoors but when it happens, it is due to houses lacking lightning rods.
“We recommend installation of lightning rods on all public buildings, avoid contact with electric conductors, including water, and using telephones when it’s raining” he advised.