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US woman feels lucky to be alive after surviving lightning strike

In this photo taken on June 19, 2015 provided by Mollyann Hart, Hart poses for a selfie showing injuries from a lightning strike while recovering at a hospital in Hagerstown, Md. She and her sister were struck after taking shelter inside a stone observation tower at Washington Monument State Park. The tower reopened Thursday, April 28, 2016, after a closure to repair damage caused by the strike.
In this photo taken on June 19, 2015 provided by Mollyann Hart, Hart poses for a selfie showing injuries from a lightning strike while recovering at a hospital in Hagerstown, Md. She and her sister were struck after taking shelter inside a stone observation tower at Washington Monument State Park. The tower reopened Thursday, April 28, 2016, after a closure to repair damage caused by the strike. Mollyann Hart via AP

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The lightning bolt followed an explosive thunderclap, striking with such force that it cracked the stone observation tower where Appalachian Trail hikers Mollyann Hart and her sister Lauren Bognovitz had taken shelter and blasted them outside into the torrential rain.

Bognovitz, who was dazed, saw her 21-year-old sister lying face down on the stone steps, bleeding from the head and convulsing from a seizure. Horrified, Bognovitz flipped her over, and Hart stopped breathing.

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Remembering her nursing training, she administered CPR until Hart’s breath returned. Then Bognovitz used sternum rubs, another first-aid technique, to bring her around while a third hiker, a man they’d met in the tower, called 911 on a cellphone before running to a nearby ranger station.

The women recalled their ordeal Friday in telephone interviews as the restored, three-story tower reopened at Washington Monument State Park in rural western Maryland more than 10 months after the June 18 incident.

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“It was horrendous,” Bognovitz, 26, a veterinary technician from Alexandria, Virginia, told The Associated Press.

She spent just a few hours in the hospital. Her sister fared far worse.

Hart, of Baltimore, was hospitalized for four days and bedridden at home for three months. Now working for an employment recruitment agency, she said she still has headaches, memory loss and permanent damage from a burned retina.

“I can’t really see much out of my right eye. I can see parts of the world but it’s mainly just fragments now,” she said.

But Hart said she considers herself lucky. She remembers the terrifying thunderclap, and then waking up in her sister’s arms.

“I had no clue where I was or what was going on. I just know I kind of hurt a lot,” she said.

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She said she panicked after hearing her sister tell an EMT they’d been struck by lightning but the ambulance crew calmed her as they cut off her clothes to look for wounds.

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“So I was lying there butt-naked in front of everyone but I didn’t care at that point. I just wanted to make sure I was going to survive,” Hart said.

She and her sister said they’ve stayed in touch with the hiker who helped them. They’re still looking for another hiker, a bearded man, who happened by before the ambulance arrived and then ran for help toward the ranger station.

The sisters said they aim to someday complete their hike of the trail’s 40-mile Maryland section. Hart has this advice for other hikers: “Definitely, don’t go anywhere near the monument if it’s about to storm.”

The nearly $10,000 restoration included replacing stones and mortar near the top of the tower, said Mary Ironside, manager of the South Mountain Recreation Area, which includes the park, about 60 miles west of Baltimore.

The tower is touted as the first completed monument to the nation’s first president. It has been substantially rebuilt or restored twice since it was erected July 4, 1827. Baltimore’s Washington Monument was completed in 1829; the one on the National Mall opened in 1885.