BALLIA, India (AP) — A searing heatwave in two of India’s most populous states has overloaded hospitals, filled a morgue to the brim and cut power, forcing staff to use books to cool patients while officials count of deaths, which has reached nearly 100,000 people 170.
According to local news reports and health officials, 119 people have died from heat-related illnesses in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in recent days, while the neighboring state of Bihar reported 47 fatalities.
“So many people are dying from the heat that we don’t have a minute to rest. On Sunday I carried 26 bodies,” Jitendra Kumar Yadav, a hearse driver in the town of Deoria, 110 kilometers (about 70 miles) from Ballia, told The Associated Press.
Other residents said they were afraid to go outside after mid-morning.
The largest hospital in Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh can no longer take patients. Officials said the morgue was full after 54 people, all elderly with various health conditions, died during the heatwave. Some families have been asked to bring the bodies of their loved ones home.
On Sunday, State Health Secretary Brajesh Pathak said a two-person team will investigate what caused the large number of deaths and how many are directly heat-related.
While the northern regions of India are notorious for sweltering summer months, temperatures have consistently been above normal, peaking at 43.5 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the Indian Meteorological Service. A heat wave is declared in India when temperatures are at least 4.5°C above normal or when the temperature is above 45°C (113°F).
“We have been issuing heatwave warnings for the last few days,” said Atul Kumar Singh, researcher at IMD.
Despite the warnings, government officials did not urge people to prepare for the heat until Sunday, when the death toll began to mount.
Adding to the heat stress are ongoing power outages across the region, leaving people without running water, fans, or air conditioning.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the government is taking measures to ensure uninterrupted power supply. He urged citizens to cooperate and use electricity wisely.
“Every village and town should have enough electricity during this scorching heat. If disruptions occur, they should be rectified immediately,” he said in a statement on Friday evening.
At Ballia County Hospital, the chaotic scenes were reminiscent of the coronavirus pandemic, when families and doctors were desperate as many patients needed urgent treatment. Hallways smelled of urine, trash, and medical waste, and the hospital walls were stained with betel leaf skewers.
“All of our employees have been here for three days and are completely overworked,” said Dr. Aditya Singh, an emergency doctor.
The wards at the hospital did not have working air conditioning units and the installed cooling equipment was not working properly due to power fluctuations. The nurses fanned the patients with books and wiped their sweat to keep them cool.
Officials said more severe cases are being transferred to hospitals in larger cities nearby such as Varanasi and more doctors and medical resources are being sent to the district hospital to deal with the heat-related crisis.
Climate experts assume that the heat waves will continue and that India will have to prepare better for the consequences. A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that studies the source of extreme heat, found that April saw a searing heatwave that swept parts of South Asia at least 30 times more likely through climate change.
“Plans for dealing with heatwaves are essential to minimize their impact and save lives. “These plans include comprehensive approaches to dealing with severe heat events, such as public awareness campaigns, provision of cooling centers and health aid,” said Aditya Valiathan Pillai, associate fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Center for Policy Research.
Arasu reported from Bengaluru, India. Associated Press writers Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India and Indrajit Singh in Patna, India contributed to this report.
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