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Lightning strikes Kahnawake

(Steve Bonspiel, The Eastern Door)

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Last Friday, as the K1037 Radio morning staff were going about their regular broadcast, lightning struck the building, and for a few short seconds, they were left in shock.

“At 6:48 this morning (Friday), Dennen Phillips (the morning show host) took a little bit of a break,” said K1037 news director Paul Graif. “He walked out of the studio to our back door through the kitchen and opened it up just to watch the rain,” he said.

“I was sitting at my desk, but I was off towards the side a little bit away from my soundboard by about a foot-and-a-half, and lightning struck, and immediately a spark emanated from the board,” added Graif.

The spark hit with what Graif described as a “snap” and said that it left him startled.

“I yelled out. It got my heart racing a little bit. And as soon as I’m reacting to that, the thunder hit, and it hit right on top of the building too,” he said. The building is made entirely of metal.

Luckily, the news director was fine and sustained no injuries. Their equipment, however, was not so lucky.

“The incident happened in the news studio. The equipment would not work for a few minutes. It affected the board and the computer linked to the board,” said Graif.

Graif said that all he had to do to get the equipment back up and running was to reboot the computer after the 7 a.m. newscast.

“Dennen was able to run all of my sounds and clips and themes that I normally run, so there was no difference for our listeners except for the fact that we couldn’t be heard online because of the Internet issue,” he said.

Graif said in the current location, nothing like that has ever happened in the seven years since the station moved.

“This is the first time I have experienced it while on-air, and certainly seeing a spark come through the board is making me think we need to get some sort of surge protector. We will talk to our technician and see if we have something like that. It was pretty intense,” said Graif.

At 6:50 a.m., a few kilometres away on Route 207, Kameron Lahache, the director of operations at First Nations Wireless, heard the thunder from his house and initially wasn’t very concerned.

“I thought nothing if it. It’s just thunder, you hear it all the time; it’s no big deal. But then when I started receiving notifications saying that multiple pieces of hardware had gone offline, that is when I started to think something had happened,” said Lahache.

According to Lahache, the notifications started flooding in almost instantaneously after lightning had struck.

“I got to the PK tower as soon as I could, and I tried to reboot all my equipment up there, but nothing was coming back online. I would say three-quarters of all of the equipment that we had up there basically got fried out by the lightning,” he said.

He said that he was at the tower from 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. on Friday, replacing multiple pieces of equipment. He returned the following morning to continue the repairs.

Lahache said that in total, 75 to 125 First Nations Wireless clients were left without services from Friday morning to Saturday night because of the incident.

“We got the tower back up and running mostly Saturday night, but we still had to return Monday morning with just a few more pieces of hardware, and now we are back up 100 percent as of Tuesday,” said Lahache.

In total, the lightning strike cost the Internet provider over $10,000 in damaged equipment. Thankfully, Lahache said their insurance covered all of it.

“Basically, what it seems like happened was there was lightning that had struck near the PK tower. It didn’t strike the PK tower directly, but we know that electricity travels through the ground, and it seemed that the electricity travelled up the tower grounding itself and then from the tower grounding up the tower. It had an effect on all the equipment that was up there, not just ours,” he said.

In fact, not only did the lightning strike affect K1037 and First Nations Wireless’ equipment, but Mohawk One had to replace some of its hardware.

The SplashPad near the Sports Complex was also affected by the weather and closed down. Repairs are expected to begin the first week of August.

The telecommunications equipment for the Kahnawake Peacekeepers was interrupted by the brief storm as well.

“The strike caused some commotion,” said Kyle Zachary, the public relations officer with the Kahnawake Peacekeepers. “Our phone line went completely dead and was out for most of the day. We had to set up an emergency replacement number. Our emergency generator was damaged and is awaiting parts for repair. Our internal computer system has also been affected.

“One of our officers got a bit of a scare too. He was standing outside when the strike happened. I’m told that the strike hit somewhere behind the station and travelled to our radio tower,” said Zachary.

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