HOUSTON Just before noon on Sunday, storm clouds rolled over the La Escondida Soccer Club fields near Aldine.
Thunder rumbled and rain began to pour, prompting three players in the men's soccer league to scramble under a tree near the edge of the fields to wait out the sudden storm.
Then at 12:05 p.m., the lightning struck. The bolt sounded like a bomb when it hit the tree, shooting like a missile and creating a bright, blue light starting at the top and scattering down the trunk where the unsuspecting men sat, witnesses said.
Harris County Sheriff Deputy Joe Shriver, who was at the field, said he ran toward the tree after the lightning hit to find the three men lying motionless on the ground. Most of the other 200 others gathered at the complex to watch and play in their weekly soccer matches scattered in the other direction.
It was nothing like I've ever seen, Shriver said.
One of the men died immediately. Deputies found a large hole in his heel where the lightning hit and jagged lines like a fern down his back, Shriver said. The other two males were taken by ambulance to the hospital, where one was immediately pronounced dead. The third male remained in stable condition. Authorities didn't release the victims' identities.
The chances of getting struck by lightning is 1 in a million in year, but the odds lessen during a person's lifetime to 1 in 10,000. Just two weeks ago, another Houston man was killed by a bolt of lightning, the first such reported death of the year in Texas.
John-Henry Janse van Rensburg, 33, died after he was struck in the head by a lightning bolt on June 30. The man was helping install a utility pole in easy Harris County as a CenterPoint contractor when the weather came up suddenly, prompting the men to pile into their trucks.
Janse van Rensburg jumped out the truck to help tie something down when the bolt hit him in the head. His co-workers tried to give him CPR to revive him, but he died later that evening.
The man, a South Africa native who moved to the United States 19 years ago, lived in Angleton with his wife Jodi and their two children, ages 3 and 8. I could not believe it, said his mother-in-law Donna Burch, who lives in Freeport. What are the odds of being struck by lightning?
Janse van Rensburg became a volunteer firefighter because if was his dream to break in a door and save somebody, she said.
The world just lost a really good man, Burch said.
The lightning on Sunday was part of the continuing storms that brought a total rainfall this past week to more than 16 inches in some areas of Harris County. Most of the rain hit the northwest side of the county, which witnessed the city's most significant flooding in two years.
The rain drove Cypress Creek well over its flood limits even higher than during 2001's Tropical Storm Allison and damaged about 100 homes.
Storms aren't expected to ease up this week. Expect more of the same, said meteorologist Brian Kyle. Throughout the week, there will be between a 30 and 40 percent chance of thunderstorms throughout the Houston area.
Kyle said the lightning Sunday was just part of a routine storm.
Every time there's thunder, there's lightning, he said. Unfortunately those two folks took shelter under a tree. It isn't very good place to take shelter because lightning tends to hit the tallest object.
He said the cluster of lightning-related deaths in the past three weeks is not as unusual as it may seem.
Sometime we have a lot clustered together, other years not, he said. There's really no rhyme or reason, other than it's summer and so there's more people outside.
Hours after the bolt hit the complex, bark was strewn around the circumference of the tree, along with beer cans, bottled water and branches that were scattered from the lightning strike. The tree appeared skinned in a corkscrew shape around the trunk where the bolt hit. Witnesses were shocked and rattled by the deaths.
The lightning came all the way down and exploded, said Martin Medina, who was playing a soccer game nearby. Every Sunday we are playing here and the lightning came out of no where and hit.
Maria Castillo, owner of the soccer complex, said the Houston Soccer Association runs the men's league. She said it was hard to imagine anyone would get hurt.
This is a shock to everybody, Castillo said.