Cold wave sweeps northern India: 16 people died

Three homeless people died overnight in Uttar Pradesh state, bringing to 16 the death toll from almost a week of near-freezing temperatures in northern India, officials said Wednesday. Meanwhile, welfare authorities lit bonfires at major road junctions to keep hundreds of pavement dwellers warm as temperatures plunged.

"Three people died of cold overnight when the temperature dropped to 4 degrees Celsius (39.20 Fahrenheit) in parts of Uttar Pradesh," said Ghulam Abbas, a government spokesman in the state capital Lucknow. The three deaths were reported in the towns of Mathura, Basti and Shahjahanpur, taking the death toll from the current cold wave to 16, Abbas said.

The lowest temperature in the state, 4 degree Celsius, was recorded in Agra, home to the world-famous Taj Mahal monument to love, he said. The weather office warned that temperatures may continue to drop over the next few days.

"Snow fall is expected in the higher reaches of the Himalayas in the next 48 hours," said R. K. Verma of the meteorology department. Uttar Pradesh, with 180 million people, is India's largest and most populous state. It is also one of the poorest, and thousands of homeless people spend the night in the open or shelter under bridges. Deaths from the intense cold are an annual feature, with more than 400 people dying in the state due to the cold last year. The state government has ordered that 10 bonfires be lit in Lucknow during the night to offer warmth to the homeless, said Alok Kumar, a municipal commissioner.

No deaths have been reported further north, in the Himalayan province of Jammu-Kashmir, even though temperatures plummeted to -6 degrees Celsius (21.20 Fahrenheit) and icy winds have gripped the Kashmir valley for nearly a week, said L.C. Ram, a meteorological officer in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jam, reports the AP. I.L.

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