Cold spell kills dozens across South Asia


Mon, Jan 09, 2006 - Page 4

Millions of people in the Indian capital woke yesterday to the coldest weather in 70 years, as the death toll from northern India's cold spell rose to 116, a police spokesman and the Meteorology Department said.

The toll included nine people who froze to death overnight in Uttar Pradesh state, Mahendra Verma, a spokesman for the state police, said in Lucknow, the state capital.

Most of the state's 101 victims have been poor people forced to sleep outside in parks or in public places such as railway stations, protecting themselves with plastic sheets and jute bags, Verma said.

Another 15 people have died of cold in northern Punjab and Haryana states since November, Press Trust of India said, bringing India's death toll from this year's cold snap to 116.

70-year record

The temperature dipped to 0oC early yesterday in New Delhi, the lowest recorded in the past 70 years and 7?C below normal, the Meteorology Department said in a statement.

The previous low recorded in New Delhi was minus 1oC in 1935, the statement said.

Overnight, two people died of cold in Kushinagar, a town 225km southeast of Lucknow, as the night temperature dropped to 2oC, Verma said.

A teenage boy's body was also found at a railroad station in Lucknow, he added.

The other six deaths were reported from Mathura and Muzaffarnagar districts in the western and eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh state, he said.

In neighboring Bangladesh, 17 people died in two days, raising this year's toll from below normal temperatures to 23 in impoverished northern Bangladesh, which is near the Himalayan foothills, a news report said yesterday.

Of the new victims, about 15 were children and the rest were elderly villagers, the Janakantha daily reported.

Child victims

At least seven children and one elderly woman died in past two days in Rangpur district, 248km north of the capital, Dhaka, the report said.

The temperature fell to as low as 8oC, below normal for winter in the tropical South Asian country, according to the met office in Dhaka.

Most Bangladeshi villagers, who live in mud-and-thatch huts and often cannot afford warm clothes, are poorly equipped for colder-than-normal weather.

Authorities in India have advised people not to venture outdoors in the worst-hit areas of the state.

"Don't venture out unless it is urgent," said Manvendra Singh, a joint director of the state's health services.

The Meteorology Department predicted that temperatures in India would start rising last night.