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Death Toll Rises To 750 As Heat Wave Sweeps Through India


The government of India said today more than 750 people have died since mid-April because of a heat wave. Temperatures have consistently been above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It's one of the worst of spells of hot weather in decades. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy has more.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: It's so hot in the capital - 114 degrees yesterday - that the roads are warping. Zebra-striped crosswalks are mere smudges on melted blacktop in this sizzling sun. But 91-year-old Sri Krishan Sethi, sporting a loose-fitting wrap-around known as a lungi, worn in sweltering climes, takes what might be called a typical Indian view.

SRI KRISHAN SETHI: It's a normal phenomena in our country. Let's accept it. We have lived with this all our lives.

MCCARTHY: He rightly points out that people, mostly from the poorest segment of society, die in India at the height of summer every year. The current intense heat has taken its greatest toll in south-central India. In the twin states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh alone, authorities say at least 750 people have perished.

Andhra Pradesh's special commissioner for disaster management, P. Tulsi Rani, recommended that drinking water camps be opened. A heat wave that swept through that state in 2002 killed some 3,000 people. India's meteorological department says the current choking weather pattern is caused by missing pre-monsoon showers and an undisturbed high-pressure system. It's issued so-called red box warnings for three states, meaning a high chance of sunstroke, dehydration and fatality, as temperatures creep up to 113 degrees and higher.

India treats avalanches, earthquakes, floods, cloudbursts, cold waves and even frost as natural disasters, entitling victims to relief from the national coffers. Not so a heat wave. The officer responsible for operations at India's National Disaster Management Authority, Major General Anurag Gupta, says, while a heat wave is a calamity, it is not part of the official list of disasters. He says its inclusion is still under consideration. The website of the Disaster Management Authority, however, says that India is feeling the impact of climate change, in terms of increased instances of heat waves that it says are more intense each year. The misery from the current sizzling heat is expected to continue until the end of the week. Meanwhile, unflappable Delhite, Sri Krishan Sethi, advises...

SETHI: If you have to go out in the sun, take two precautions. One - drink enough water. And, keep an umbrella.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.