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17 hospitalized after lightning hits tent at food festival

A lightning bolt that hit a tent at a food festival with hundreds of people inside sounded like a bomb going off when it struck, said one of the festival-goers.

"You see the flash and it sounded like a bomb [went off] exactly at the same time. It was so loud," said Steve Peddle, who was with his wife inside the Whitby Ribfest's main dining tent when the lightning struck on Sunday afternoon.

"All of a sudden, like not even three seconds after that, you started hearing people screaming."

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Mr. Peddle said he saw three people laying on the ground, apparently knocked unconscious.

A total of 17 people were sent to hospital. None suffered life-threatening injuries.

Mr. Peddle said the lightning seemed to hit one table close to the main tent poles the hardest, though many people standing around the spot did not appear to be injured.

He and his wife Rose had been sitting at the table moments before the lightning, but decided to move to a spot further away from the main poles just before the lightning hit.

"It would've been us sitting on the ground if she didn't switch."

Whitby Ribfest chair Colin O'Regan said the festival didn't see the lightning storm coming in the moments before the bolt hit the tent around 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

"Basically a sudden storm came out of nowhere," he said.

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He said emergency officials arrived on the scene within minutes of the lightning strike.

Mr. O'Regan said most of the victims were hospitalized "for observational purposes only."

The Durham Region east of Toronto, which includes Whitby, was put under a severe thunderstorm watch Sunday morning.

Mr. O'Regan said emergency officials who were already at the festival had been monitoring the thunderstorm watch.

"We were aware but felt that there was no risk to the patrons attending," he said.

He said there were no heavy rains or any other indication the storm was coming in the moments before it appeared and struck the tent.

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The Ribfest is an annual event that attracts tens of thousands of people.

Mr. O'Regan said there were several thousand people attending the festival when the lightning strike occurred.

He said many more were expected to arrive later in the afternoon.

"It occurred earlier in the day when we were not as populated as we would have been," he said.

The festival has been closed due to lightning strike and bad weather.

Sunday was the third and final day of the festival.

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