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India: Heatwave from hell

India is sweltering under a heatwave which has seen temperatures soar to 118F and left more than 500 dead. And the intense heat which has gripped northern and southern parts of the country looks set to continue this week, officials said today.

The hottest place in India was Allahabad, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which saw mercury rise to 47.7 degrees Celsius (117.8 Fahrenheit) on Sunday, while the capital Delhi recorded a high of 43.5C (110.3F).

Most of the 539 recorded deaths have been of construction workers, the elderly or the homeless in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where temperatures have been hottest, said officials, but some deaths have also occurred in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.

The Indian Meteorological Department has issued a red warning to affected regions saying that the heat wave conditions are likely to continue over coming days.

Director of Andhra Pradesh's Disaster Management Department K. Dhananjaya Reddy said 325 people had died of sunstroke or dehydration in the state in the last three days.

'We are advising people not to go to work between 10am to 4pm,' said Reddy. 'We have also opened centres in different places specially in urban areas for the distribution of water and butter milk.'

The government has cancelled the leave of all doctors as hospitals were being flooded with cases of heat-stroke, he said, adding that compensation of 100,000 rupees (£1,000) will be given to families of people who had died.

While in the neighbouring state of Telangana, where 204 people have died, officials have advised people to stay indoors during peak afternoon hours, drink plenty of fluids and wear loose clothing.

Taxi drivers in Kolkata - capital of West Bengal state where four deaths have been reported - refused to work between 11am and 4pm after two cabbies died in their cars last week.

The move has taken the city's famous yellow taxis off the road.

The monsoon, predicted to hit southern India's coastline on May 31, will bring some relief from the high temperatures, said weather officials.

Andhra Pradesh authorities are urging labourers and others not to work long hours in the heat of the day after 246 people died from the high temperatures there in the last week.

'The majority of the victims are people who have been exposed to the sun directly, usually aged 50 and above and from the working classes,' P. Tulsi Rani, special commissioner of Andhra Pradesh's disaster management department, told AFP.

Rani said although the deaths started occurring on Monday last week, the number increased rapidly towards the end of the week after days of scorching heat.

'We are asking them to take precautions like using an umbrella, using a cap, taking a huge quantity of liquids like water and buttermilk, and wearing cotton clothing,' he said.

Another 188 people have died in Telangana since April, although most fatalities have occurred since the middle of last week. Latest figures are still being confirmed and highly likely to rise, D. Vani, an official with the state's disaster management department, said.

Hundreds of mainly poor people die at the height of summer every year across the country, while tens of thousands suffer power cuts from an overburdened electricity grid.

'The kind of heatwave we are seeing now is slightly higher than normal. The temperatures here have almost touched 48-49 degrees Celsius (118-120 degrees Fahrenheit),' said B. R. Meena, principal secretary of revenue for Telangana.

Poorly paid workers said they could ill afford to heed the warnings to stay at home to avoid the worst of the heat.

'I am a diabetes patient, but I have no husband and no sons, so I have to stay here and keep shop,' said P. Gangamma, 65, who runs a cigarette stand at a busy intersection in Telangana's capital, Hyderabad.

Gurunath Patil, who plies his auto rickshaw in the capital from 8.30am to 4pm, said 'you can't make money sitting at home.'

Several deaths have also been reported in the northwestern desert state of Rajasthan in recent days including a woman who collapsed on the roadside in Bundi city, the Press Trust of India said.

India's weather bureau warned 'heatwave to severe heatwave conditions would prevail' in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in coming days as well as in northern states and New Delhi.
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