India (HRNW): At least 125 people are now reported to have died in fierce dust storms in northern India, with officials warning of more bad weather to come. High-speed winds and lightning have devastated many villages, brought down walls and left scores injured. A spokesperson for the Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner’s office told AFP the death toll was the highest from such storms in at least 20 years. Officials have said the death toll could rise over the coming days. India’s Meteorological Department said more storms were likely across a wider area before the weekend. “People should be alert,” the relief commissioner’s office told AFP.
In the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the storm has brought down electricity, uprooted trees, destroyed houses and killed livestock The district of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, home of the Taj Mahal monument, was one of the areas worst hit. The storms also affected three districts in neighbouring Rajasthan state – Alwar, Bharatpur and Dholpur. Many of the dead were sleeping indoors when their houses collapsed after being struck by lightning or gusts of wind.Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was saddened by the loss of life. The Uttar Pradesh government announced that families of those who died would receive 400,000 rupees ($6,000; £4,400) as compensation.
The southern state of Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile was also hit by storms on Wednesday, also resulting in many deaths. Authorities said they have been shocked by the ferocity of the storms. “I’ve been in office for 20 years and this is the worst I’ve seen,” Hemant Gera, secretary for disaster management and relief in Rajasthan, told the media. We had a high intensity dust storm on 11 April – 19 people died then – but this time it struck during the night so many people sleeping and couldn’t get out of their houses when mud walls collapsed.”