A huge dust storm and lightning strikes killed at least 125 people across India which braced yesterday for more wild weather.
Dust clouds plunged swathes of north India into darkness as choking winds of more than 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour swept across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, flattening houses, walls, trees and power pylons.
At least 111 people were killed, many as they slept when walls and roofs came tumbling down on them. Another 14 people were killed in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh which was hammered by more than 41,000 lightning strikes on Wednesday, disaster officials said.
Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan bore the brunt of the dust storm that was blamed on a collision of two weather fronts with India in the grip of higher temperatures than normal.
Some districts reported 45 minutes of destructive winds followed by fierce lightning storms.
Similar storms kill many people each year in India but this was one of the most severe in recent decades. Rescuers were still going through the rubble of felled homes yesterday. Media reports said more than 20 people were found dead in the village of Kheragarh southwest of Agra.
Shivam Lohia, who owns a resort hotel in Alwar district of Rajasthan, abandoned his car on the road and ran for his life after it was almost blown away. “I haven’t seen such a devastating storm in at least 25 years. Everyone was scared and running for cover as trees and homes were getting blown away. It was a nightmare,” Lohia told AFP.
There were 73 confirmed deaths in Uttar Pradesh in the north, 36 in the desert state of Rajasthan to the west, and two in Punjab. Agra district in Uttar Pradesh was one of the worst hit areas, with at least 43 people killed. The Taj Mahal is in Agra city but officials said the monument escaped damage.
Last month, a similar storm killed at least 15 people in Uttar Pradesh and destroyed two minarets over an entry house to the Taj Mahal. T.P. Gupta of the Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner’s office told AFP the death toll was “unprecedented” from such a storm in the past 20 years. More than 150 cattle and other animals were also killed across the state.
“There is a forecast for more storms in the next 48 hours across the state so people should be alert,” he added.