By David Bailey
DETROIT (Reuters) - Nearby lightning strikes forced the University of Michigan and University of Notre Dame to clear their football stadium seats on Saturday, pressing nearly 200,000 fans to take cover inside or in nearby buildings.
Michigan cleared its massive 110,000-seat stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with 1:27 left in the third quarter and the team leading Western Michigan 34-10. The teams later agreed to end the game there.
The decision to call the Michigan game came not long after Notre Dame officials ordered people to clear the bowl at their 81,000 seat stadium in South Bend, Indiana, with lightning strikes reported nearby and very high winds expected.
The Notre Dame-South Florida football game was suspended for two hours at halftime with South Florida leading 16-0. It was delayed a second time, for about 45 minutes, with 4:21 left to play and South Florida leading by 23-13.
No storm-related injuries were reported from what was the first time that Notre Dame Stadium had been evacuated in at least 60 years, university spokesman Dennis Brown said.
Brown said there were a number of lightning strikes in the area and the "vast majority of the stadium was evacuated."
The university also was expecting high winds as a storm front passed, he said.
"We actually started our announcements even before then to err on the side of caution," Brown said.
South Bend Police Captain Phil Trent, who was working traffic at the game, said a "pretty significant" number of people were leaving the stadium, but he suspected some would stick around until the bitter end.
Most of the students initially stayed put in the stands despite the evacuation order, getting up only when ushers kicked them out. Fans waited out the storm in the stadium concourse and several other nearby university buildings.
With his team losing, 19-year-old Notre Dame sophomore Joey Labetti looked for the silver lining in the delay.
"I honestly hope that this is divine intervention," Labetti said during the first weather delay.
It was not to be. South Florida won 23-20.
Notre Dame plays at Michigan next Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton and Peter Bohan)