Amish woman, unborn child dead after lightning strike
An Amish woman who was nine months pregnant and her unborn child died Tuesday morning when they were struck by lightning in Somerset County, according to state police.
The baby’s expected due date was Tuesday, said Trooper Steve Limani, state police spokesman.
Mary H. Yoder, 36, of Rockdale Road in Summit Township, was in the woods near her home picking blackberries with her husband, Menno, and their two children about 11 a.m., police said.
It began to storm, and Yoder took shelter under a pine tree, while her husband and two children stood under a nearby tree, police said.
A few minutes later, Yoder was struck by lightning, killing her and the unborn child, police said.
Neighbors of the Yoders said it was a strong storm with multiple lightning strikes.
“This thunderstorm that we had came up pretty quick,” said Elmer Kinsinger, 37, a friend and neighbor of the Yoder family. “They started for home, but then I guess it got to raining pretty good. They stood under the pine tree.”
Four severe thunderstorm warnings were issued in Somerset County throughout the day, including one at 10:40 a.m., said Craig Evanego, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Moon.
The storm produced “quite a bit of lightning,” he said, including some in Meyersdale, about six miles from where the incident occurred.
“Any thunderstorm will produce lightning, and any lightning can be deadly, at least cloud-to-ground lightning,” Evanego said.
An average of 54 people are killed by lightning every year in the United States, according to the weather service. There have been 16 such deaths so far in 2012, not including Yoder’s. Hers was the first this year in Pennsylvania.
During a storm, the weather service urges people to run to a safe building or a vehicle. While there is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm, people who are stuck outside should avoid open fields, hilltops, isolated trees, tall objects, water, wet items and metal objects.
“Generally you want to stay away from tall objects, because lightning usually tries to strike the highest or tallest object in an area,” Evanego said. “So if you’re under a tree, that tree is kind of a magnet.”
Menno Yoder had to run about a quarter mile to a phone where he could call 911, Kinsinger said. Emergency crews drove an ambulance through a field, then had to walk about 1,000 yards into the woods.
Kinsinger, who grew up with Menno Yoder, said he visited the scene to show his concern.
“I think (Menno) was in shock,” he said.
The Yoders have a 3-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, who were not injured, he said.
“She was a good mom, I thought, and a well-liked lady,” Kinsinger said.
Menno Yoder sustained a minor brush burn on the inside of his knee, but he doesn’t know how, Kinsinger said.
The Yoders likely were picking blackberries for their own use, Kinsinger said.
“They raise produce for the countryside produce auction that’s 10 miles from here,” Kinsinger said. “That was their livelihood — produce.”
Neighbor Joan Lenhart, 74, said many Amish families live in the rural area.
With five church districts, Somerset County’s Amish population is considered small, but it is the second-oldest Amish community in North America, founded around 1772, according to www.amishamerica.com.
Pennsylvania is home to about 59,000 Amish, among 53 settlements, according to The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County.
“(Yoder) was a young woman. … They were old-order Amish,” Lenhart said. “It’s been a terrible tragedy in our neighborhood.”
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or [email protected].