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© Telegraph
School students get treatment at Capital Hospital after lightning struck them at Jaripada village in Khurda district.
Tragedy struck young cricket enthusiasts ahead of India's crucial World Cup tie against Bangladesh as lightning killed six youths at Jaripada village in Khurda district, 70km from here. The youths were playing a cricket match when the incident occurred.

Thirteen others were injured in the incident, which happened when a thunderstorm, accompanied by lightning, hit the area.

As the storm hit the area, the youths, in the age group between 14 and 20, took shelter in an under-construction building at the village. But, the lightning struck there, killing three of them on the spot. Three others died on way to Tangi hospital.

The injured have been admitted to hospitals in Khurda and Bhubaneswar. "The condition of the injured is stable, and they have been referred to private hospitals in Khurda and Bhubaneswar," said a doctor of Tangi hospital.

Around 30 people, including children, were watching the match when the thunderstorm, accompanied by lightning, struck. The deceased have been identified as Bibhuti Parida, 19, Rahul Naik, 15, S.K. Okil, 14, Ajit Behera, 15, Shahrukh Khan, 20, and Santosh Pradhan, 15.

Among the injured, the condition of Bhubaneswar Mohapatra, 17, is reported to be critical. The deceased were residents of Jaripada and nearby villages.

Papu Mansingh, 15, one of boys injured in the incident, said a cricket match was going on when the thunderstorm struck.

"All of us ran to take shelter in the under-construction building. While some of us took shelter inside the building, some others were standing under a concrete roof when the lightning struck," said Papu, a Class IX student.

Chandan Naik, 14, who is undergoing treatment at Capital Hospital, said they were thinking of taking shelter in another abandoned building, but the hailstones forced them to rush to the under-construction building. "Everything happened so quickly that we could not do anything about it," said Naik.

Senior district administration officials, including the collector and the tehsildar, rushed to the Tangi hospital. "We made a spot visit and have also asked a team of doctors from Khurda to visit the Tangi hospital. We would also help the victims from the Red Cross fund," said Khurda collector Niranjan Sahu.

The state government announced an ex gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh to each family of the deceased. Announcing this in the Assembly here, parliamentary affairs minister Bikram Keshari Arukh said the state government would bear all expenses towards the treatment of the injured struck by lightning.

Lightning has been a major killer in the state even as the Centre has turned down its request to declare tragedies caused by lightning as a natural disaster. While in 2012-13, lightning had killed 273 people, the number of such casualties was 214 the next year. This year so far, lightning has killed 238 people, including today's victims.

A senior official in the special relief commissioner's office said: "The state government has been consistently demanding that lightning and heat wave be declared as natural calamities. However, the Centre has not yet accepted our demand. But, the state government is providing financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of each lightning victim out of the Chief Minister's Relief Fund."

Experts say lightning is a pre-monsoon phenomenon, which occurs frequently in Odisha.

Karmadev Maharana, who is a physics professor, said intense heat wave, coupled with other climatic changes, had intensified the recurrence of lightning in the state. "Because of the high presence of air moisture, the lightening has become a regular phenomenon," he said.

Director of the regional meteorology centre S.C. Sahu said: "Intense heat and the presence of high content of moisture in the air because of the Bay of Bengal, lightning turned to be a common phenomenon here."