HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Eating onions, lying in the shade and splashing into rivers, Indians were doing whatever they could Thursday to stay cool during a brutal heat wave that has killed more than 1,400 in the past month.
But some had no choice but to venture into the heat.
“Either we have to work, putting our lives under threat, or we go without food,” farmer Narasimha said in the badly hit Nalgonda district of southern Andhra Pradesh state.
Meteorological officials have said the heat would likely last several more days — scorching crops, killing wildlife and endangering anyone laboring outdoors. Officials warned people to stay out of the sun, cover their heads and drink plenty of water. Still, poverty forced many to work despite the risks.
“If I don’t work due to the heat, how will my family survive?” said construction worker Mahalakshmi, who earns a daily wage of about $3.10 in Nizamabad, a city about 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of the state capital of Hyderabad.
Most of the 1,412 heat-related deaths so far have occurred in Andhra Pradesh and neighboring Telangana, where temperatures have soared to 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit), according to government figures.
“The rains which have eluded us for the last couple of years have created serious drought conditions,” said state minister K.T. Rama Rao in Telangana, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh as a separate state just last year.
“This is unprecedented … so there is a little bit of panic,” he said. “Hopefully the monsoon will be on time. Hopefully we will receive rain very, very soon.”
Among the most vulnerable were the elderly and the poor, many of whom live in slums or farm huts with no access to air conditioners or sometimes even shade-giving trees.
Those who were able avoided the outdoors, leaving many streets in normally busy cities nearly deserted.
“With so many people dying due to the heat, we are locking the children inside,” teacher Satyamurthy said in Khammam, which registered its highest temperature in 67 years on Saturday when the thermometer hit 48 degrees Celsius (more than 118 Fahrenheit).
Cooling monsoon rains were expected to arrive next week in the southern state of Kerala and gradually advance north in coming weeks.
Until then, volunteers were passing out pouches of salted buttermilk or raw onions — both thought to be hydrating. People used handkerchiefs and scarves to block searing winds and stifling air from their faces. – Associated Press