India

Death toll from North India cold wave at 160

LUCKNOW: A bitter cold spell in northern India claimed six more lives overnight to take the countrywide toll to 160, officials said on Tuesday, as doctors warned that survivors of a Japanese encephalitis outbreak were particularly at risk.
The new deaths were reported from Uttar Pradesh where 124 people - mostly homeless - have died due to the freezing conditions, according to a tally based on figures released by police in Lucknow.

The other deaths were reported from Punjab, Haryana and West Bengal. Doctors manning government hospitals in Uttar Pradesh warned of more casualties given the poor conditions in which patients battling illnesses such as Japanese encephalitis are being accommodated.

More than 1,450 people - most of them children - died last year due to the outbreak.

With few blankets, thin mattresses and no electric heaters, many children recuperating in the King George Medical College in Lucknow were finding it difficult to cope with the biting cold, said Dr Anurag Yadav.

Five-year-old Rohit Kumar, who survived an attack of Japanese encephalitis last week, sat shivering in the lap of his mother Lalita Devi. "I saw a child die of cold a few days back... my son will also die," Lalita Devi said, begging for more blankets for her son.

Yadav said Rohit had recovered but was weak and "if not protected from this cold he may die." KP Kushwaha, another doctor in Uttar Pradesh, said the children were facing "double death" - one in the form of encephalitis and the second from the cold.

The bitter cold has been unrelenting in other parts of northern India as well.

"Many parts of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh continue to be in the grip of a cold wave to severe cold wave conditions. They have extended eastwards into parts of Bihar," the weather office in New Delhi said Tuesday.

Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir, recorded minus three degrees Celsius (26.6 degrees Fahrenheit) Tuesday, while the northern Sikh pilgrimage city of Amritsar recorded zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

A doctor in Uri, one of the towns in Indian Kashmir worst hit by a devastating earthquake three months ago, warned that survivors living in makeshift shelters are showing signs of hypothermia and frostbite.

New Delhi recorded its lowest temperature in 70 years on Sunday with the mercury at 0.2 degrees Celsius (32.36 Fahrenheit).

The mercury fluctuated between minus four degrees Celsius and two degrees Celsius in other parts of northern India this week, said a meteorological department official in New Delhi.

The bitter cold forced authorities to shut primary schools for a few days across the region.