Dense fog blanketed northern India on Tuesday, and civic authorities lit bonfires in some cities to keep people from freezing as the death toll from a cold wave in South Asia rose to more than 230 people, officials said. Many of the deaths in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan came from exposure or fevers and pneumonia contracted during the cold spell, officials said.
"Bonfires are the only solace for us," said Sukhai Ram, 30, a laborer in the northern Indian city of Lucknow. Wrapped in a filthy blanket, he had spent the night with dozens of others huddled around a public bonfire. "Without the fires, we will die."
Bangladesh recorded the highest death toll overnight, with 14 people dying in northern districts near the Himalayan foothills where temperatures dipped below the average of 8 degree Celsius (46 degree Fahrenheit).
Nine of those deaths came in the impoverished northern district of Thakurgaon, said relief officials who asked not to be identified because they were not allowed to speak to media.
Five other deaths were reported in the neighboring districts of Dinajpur and Ishwardi, reported the Bhorer Kagoj newspaper. A total of 40 people have died in Bangladesh since the cold wave began about a week ago.
Most Bangladeshi villagers live in mud-and-thatch huts and are ill-prepared for colder-than-normal weather, and relief workers said they were handing out blankets and warm clothes, as were authorities in stricken parts of neighboring India.
In India's worst-hit Uttar Pradesh state, at least 12 people died overnight, bringing India's death toll to 144, said Surendra Srivastava, a police spokesman in Lucknow, the state capital. Dilip Kumar, a 32-year-old construction worker in Lucknow, said his family had "arranged for our own bonfire to keep warm at night. If we can't find wood from scavenging, we burn rubber tubes to ward off the biting cold." In the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, at least 15 people have died because of the cold since November, while another eight deaths have been reported over the last two weeks from the state of Jammu-Kashmir.
Schools have been ordered closed across northern India until the cold wave lifts.
In neighboring Pakistan, at least 47 people have reportedly died of cold and pneumonia from a week of frigid weather in the country's remote northern Himalayan region. The region is outside areas hit by a giant Oct. 8 earthquake that killed at least 87,000 people, reports the AP. I.L.