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Cold Weather Kills 38 in Northern India

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

LUCKNOW, India —  An unusually fierce cold snap has killed nine people in northern India over the past two days, bringing the death toll from weeks of unusually chilly weather to 38, officials and a news report said Wednesday.

The nighttime temperature dipped to 34 degrees in the tourist city of Agra where the Taj Mahal is located, said a statement from the Meteorology Department of Uttar Pradesh state.

Westerly winds sweeping the region could bring nighttime temperatures even lower over the next two days, said K.P. Kulshreshtha, a director at the department.

The Press Trust of India news agency said two people died of cold-related ailments in nearby Punjab state Tuesday. Officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the report.

Authorities blamed the weather for the deaths of two more people whose bodies were found near an Uttar Pradesh train station, and reported five other cold-related deaths in other parts of the state since the new year began, said a state government spokesman, Ramesh Mohan Upadhaya.

Most of 36 weather-related deaths reported in Uttar Pradesh since the cold snap began in December involved beggars or impoverished migrant workers who often sleep in the open, with only plastic sheets or jute cloth sacks for cover, Upadhaya said.

Homeless people huddled around fires in the chilly wind in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

"Without this bonfire we will die," said Sukhai Ram, a homeless laborer.

The state government has ordered officials to light bonfires for the poor people, Upadhaya said. "But these are too far and too few," complained one area resident, Vinod Maurya.

Winters are normally short and mild in South Asia.

State governments in India have built night shelters for some of the homeless, but they cannot accommodate all those who need them.

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.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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