LUCKNOW, India – Near-freezing temperatures have killed more than two dozen people in northern India in recent days despite government efforts to distribute blankets and medicine to the poor, an official and a news report said.
In worst-hit Uttar Pradesh state, at least 22 people — many of them homeless — died over the past three days, pushing the death toll from two weeks of cold weather to 63, Ram Mohan Srivastav, a top government official, said Saturday.
Uttar Pradesh is one of India's poorest states and nearly a fifth of its 180 million people are homeless, according to state government statistics.
At least six people died from frigid temperatures in the past two days in neighboring Jharkhand state, the Press Trust of India news agency reported late Friday.
The temperature dipped below 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) in parts of Uttar Pradesh this week, with the mercury plunging to 33 F (0.6 C) in Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is located.
State authorities have ordered all schools to close until the weather improves, Srivastav said.
Welfare department workers distributed blankets and medicine to the poor and homeless in Uttar Pradesh this week. In the state capital, Lucknow, the government arranged all-night bonfires at major road crossings and near railway stations.
All flights to and from Lucknow were canceled after a dense fog shrouded the city's airport Friday. Almost all long-distance trains were running four to five hours late due to the fog, Srivastav said.
In New Delhi, at least 10 homeless people have died from 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.
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.