Heat wave kills 373 in southern Indian state

#1 May 16th, 2002, 06:09
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HYDERABAD, India: A weeklong heat wave in southern India with temperatures of up to 49 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) has killed 373 people in Andhra Pradesh state, the government said Wednesday.

The state's top elected official, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, said most of the 373 dead were from Andhra Pradesh's poorest and most physically weak. Local newspapers have indicated the death toll may be higher than 500.

Light rain gave some relief Wednesday, but also boosted the humidity during this unusually hot May, the peak of summer in southern India. Dry winds and a scorching sun baked the state for much of the week. Temperatures have been 7 percent higher than normal for the month.

New Delhi and other parts of north India also were wilting under a hot spell, but summer has hit southerners the hardest.

The heat wave in Andhra Pradesh has come as a shock because the state "is far ahead of other states in increasing the green cover and in conservation of water,'' Naidu said.

Naidu said a committee of scientists would look into whether the heat wave had anything to do with global warming.

But the director of the state's weather office said the heat wave was due to wind patterns, not global warming.

"It is the hot, dry wind blowing in from the north that has created the situation,'' weather office director C.V.V. Bhadram said. "We had a heat wave in 1996 and 1998. But this year it is unusually long and persistent.''

Hiralal Samaria, the top government administrator of the southern state's Guntur district, which recorded 84 deaths in the past week, said most of the deaths were among the elderly.

However, some rickshaw pullers and farm laborers, who continued working despite the heat, also were among the victims.

"Sun stroke was the most common cause of deaths,'' Samaria said.

Prakasham district followed with 63 deaths, 50 in East Godavari, 44 in West Godavari, and 42 in Krishna, the state government said, updating the tolls Wednesday evening.

Residents of Rajamundry town coped with the highest recorded temperature ever of 49 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit). Machlipatnam reeled under 44.7 Celsius (112 Fahrenheit), the highest in 96 years.

At Kovvuru, a town in Krishna district, a private organization said it recorded 51 degrees Celsius (123 Fahrenheit) Monday. The state weather office, however, didn't accept the claim. - AP

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