LUCKNOW, India – Near-freezing temperatures and icy Himalayan winds have killed dozens of people in northern India over the past two weeks and forced schools to close in the capital, officials said Wednesday.
A spokesman for worst-hit Uttar Pradesh state said five people died from the cold overnight, pushing the number of deaths there to 41.
Uttar Pradesh is one of India's poorest states and nearly a fifth of its 180 million people are homeless.
In New Delhi, at least 10 homeless people died from the cold weather over the past two weeks despite a drive by police and welfare officials to persuade people living on the streets to sleep in 80 city-run shelters.
The temperature dropped to 3.7 degrees Celsius (38.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday in the capital, where the average January temperature is about 14 C (58 F).
Arvinder Singh Lovely, New Delhi's education minister, ordered all schools to close for a week Wednesday because of the intense cold.
Officials in the eastern state of Bihar also closed schools for a week.
Though India is famous for its brutally hot summers, temperatures fall sharply for a few weeks in December and January. Poor people, particularly those living on the streets, are the worst hit.
"We burn bonfires and sit around them almost the whole night," said Sukhai Ram, a laborer in Lucknow. Wrapped in a thin shawl, he tried to keep the fire going by adding bits of rubber tire and plastic bags. "Without this fire we will die."
Authorities in Lucknow arranged 74 bonfires at major road crossings, hospitals, and bus and railway stations to keep people from dying from the cold, Mayor Dinesh Sharma said.