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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Heat 'kills 450' in southern India
Boy with donkey crossing a parched landscape
Large areas of India are scorched and dry
A heat wave sweeping the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has now killed 450 people in less than a week, state relief officials say.


When the hot wind hit my face, I felt as if I was set on fire

Bheemudu,
Rickshaw puller
Nearly 100 other people have suffered heat-related deaths across India since the start of May, and 40 more have died in the last nine days in Pakistan.

Andhra Pradesh Assistant Relief Secretary Jagdish Reddy said fresh reports of deaths, mainly among the poor and the elderly, had pushed casualty figures to 450 since 10 May.

Temperatures, which have soared on occasion to a blistering 49C, were still as high as 41C in places along the coast of the Bay of Bengal on Thursday, he told the Associated Press.

In some badly-hit outlying districts, where nearly a quarter of the state's heat-related deaths have been recorded, temperatures are still in the mid-40s.

'Unparalleled tragedy'

Officials in worst-hit Guntur district, where the official death toll has reached 98, say the elderly and the young are particularly vulnerable.

map
Elsewhere in the state, however, light rain brought some relief on Wednesday.

Temperatures fell back into the 30s in some coastal cities, as well as in the state capital, Hyderabad, where a BBC correspondent says life is slowly returning to normal.

In Pakistan, a heat wave affecting central and southern areas has claimed 40 lives in nine days, officials in the city of Multan said earlier in the week.

On Wednesday, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said the tragedy was unparalleled in the state's history, and promised 50,000 rupees to the family of every victim.

He has asked the federal authorities for emergency assistance and medical help.

Suffering

Many of the deaths in Andhra Pradesh have been among elderly street vendors overcome by heatstroke and dehydration.

Indian states hit
Madhya Pradesh - 30 dead
Chattisgarh - five dead
Punjab, Haryana - 16 dead
Orissa - seven dead
Gujarat, Maharashtra - nine dead
Rajasthan - 18 dead
"I have seen many summers, but nothing like this year," Bheemudu, a 49-year-old rickshaw puller, told the Associated Press in the city of Vijayawada.

He said he had been unable to work for four days "and it was very difficult to survive without working".

People have been advised to stay indoors and drink plenty of water until cooler weather arrives - probably in three or four days.

This is not the first time that large parts of India have reeled under oppressively high temperatures.

Boy being treated for sunstroke in Hyderabad
The young and the elderly are most vulnerable
CVV Bhadram, Director of Meteorology in Hyderabad, says a May heat wave is not surprising.

"But what is unusual this time is the intensity and the persistence for over a week," he says.

Meteorologists say the heat wave is caused by winds blowing from deserts in north-western India.

They expect temperatures to drop once monsoon rains arrive in early June.

See also:

13 May 02 | South Asia
India swelters under heat wave
07 Jul 00 | Health
The health risks of a heat wave
24 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
India's global warming fears
27 Apr 00 | South Asia
In pictures: India's drought
02 May 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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