India dust storms kill 125 in night of destruction

A tree that fell down in Agra during the dust storm on Thursday

Dust clouds plunged swathes of north India into darkness as choking winds of more than 130 kilometres per hour swept across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, flattening houses, walls, trees and power pylons.

On Wednesday, a combination of weather systems emanating from hilly states and either side of the sea, East and West, resulted in the intense thundershowers and dust storms in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh that left several dead. Over 200 people have been injured in the storm which affected Bharatpur, Dholpur and Alwar districts.

Shivam Lohia, who owns a resort hotel in Alwar district of Rajasthan, said he abandoned his auto on the road ran for his life after it was nearly 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", Lohia said. "It was a nightmare", Lohia told AFP.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje have both announced a compensation of Rs.4 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs.50,000 for each of the injured in their respective states. Uttar Pradesh reported 73 deaths, of which 46 were in Agra district alone.

The city of Agra - where the Taj Mahal is located - was ravaged, with at least 43 deaths recorded and another 51 people injured. In Uttar Pradesh, Agra, Bijnor, Bareli, Saharanpur, Pilibhit, Firozabad, Chitrakoot, Muzaffarnagar, Rae Bareli and Unnao among the worst affected. Many people in India sleep outside during the summer months to escape the high temperatures.

The storm is the also reason of the massive destruction in Alwar where more than 100 trees were uprooted, many of which fell on stationary vehicles and this snapped the electricity cables. "There is a high probability that winds will intensify in the next 48 hours in Rajasthan, which may lead to another dust storm". Rajasthan's disaster management secretary Hemant Kumar Gera said some were undergoing primary treatment.

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India's Meteorological Department said more storms were likely across a wider area before the weekend. In Rajasthan, Bharatpur district was the worst affected with 19 killed.

Weather department officials in New Delhi said the storm was caused by a collision of rival eastern and western weather systems over the humid northern plains.

Most of the injured in Rajasthan have been discharged from hospitals.

In Rajasthan, home minister Gulab Chand Kataria put the toll at 33 on Thursday, but unofficial sources said it had climbed to 39 by evening.

Rajasthan government said contingency funds have been released to district administrations.

Sudden dust storms are common in northern India as temperatures soar through April and May but loss of life on this scale is unusual. Condolences to the bereaved families.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sorrow over the deaths and directed officials to coordinate with the states to ensure speedy relief and rehabilitation.

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