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Brazil sees record lightning toll

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Lightning strike in Sao Paulo in 2005
There were more than 60 million lightning strikes in Brazil in 2008

Seventy five people died as a result of lightning strikes in Brazil in 2008, the Brazilian government has said.

The figure was the highest in several years and an increase on 2007, when 47 deaths were reported.

According to the National Institute of Space Research, there are on average more than 50 million lightning strikes in Brazil each year.

The institute says the number of deaths recorded last year was the highest number since 2001, when 73 people died.

Weather or pollution?

Men working in the countryside made up the largest number of victims.

Using information gathered from satellites, researchers say the number of lightning strikes was also higher in 2008, passing 60 million, principally in the north and north-east of the country.

The reasons for the rise in the figures are uncertain, but the space agency says the weather phenomenon known as La Nina could have changed wind patterns in a way that favours the formation of storms.

They also believe that in states such as Sao Paulo pollution could be a factor. Research coordinator Osmar Pinto Junior said that even with the high level of lightning in Brazil, the chance of one person being struck was extremely remote.

However he said that while the risk was small, the public was not very well informed about the dangers, and what precautions should be taken.

The level of lightning strikes in Brazil is predicted to remain high in 2009 - and there have already been four deaths reported in the state of Bahia.

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