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Dust storms leave 100 dead in India

Agra, Thursday

Powerful dust storms tore across northern India killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 140 as they flattened houses in their path and warnings were made today of more chaos to come.

Winds of more than 130 kilometres per hour ravaged Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab states and the death toll was expected to rise, officials said.

The dust storms brought down feeble mud houses, killing people as they slept. Walls, trees and electricity pylons were all torn down by the winds which were followed by fierce lightning storms.

Similar storms kill hundreds of people each year in India, but these were some of the most severe in recent decades. Shivam Lohia, who owns a resort hotel in Alwar district of Rajasthan, said he abandoned his car on the road ran for his life after it was almost blown away.

“I haven’t seen such a devastating storm in at least 25 years. Everyone was scared and running for cover as trees and homes were getting blown away. It was a nightmare,” he said.

There were 65 confirmed deaths in Uttar Pradesh in the north, 33 in the desert state of Rajasthan to the west, and two in Punjab. Agra district of Uttar Pradesh was one of the worst hit with more than 40 people killed. The Taj Mahal is in Agra city but officials said the monument escaped damage.

Last month, a similar storm killed at least 15 people in Uttar Pradesh and destroyed two minarets over an entry house to the Taj Mahal. Most of the victims were killed as they slept by houses that collapsed or by falling walls, trees and electric pylons, officials said.

Many people in India sleep outside during the summer months to escape the high temperatures. Rescuers were still going through the rubble of felled homes on Thursday.

“We can confirm at least 65 deaths from around 40 of the state’s 75 districts,” T P Gupta of the Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner’s office told AFP. He called the death toll “unprecedented” from such a storm in the past 20 years. – AFP

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