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Morgues full and hospitals overwhelmed as India’s heatwave death toll hits 170

Hospitals are overwhelmed and morgues filled to capacity.
Hospitals are overwhelmed and morgues filled to capacity. Copyright Rajesh Kumar Singh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Rajesh Kumar Singh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Rebecca Ann Hughes with AP
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Officials are investigating the deaths and how many were directly caused by the soaring temperatures.

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A searing heatwave has swept through two of the most populous states in India, hospitalising hundreds and killing nearly 170 people.

Temperatures hit 43.5 degrees Celsius in some areas earlier this month, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

Hospitals are overwhelmed and morgues filled to capacity, AP reports.

Officials are now investigating the deaths and how many were directly caused by the soaring temperatures.

Hospitals filled to capacity amid India’s scorching heatwave

The death toll continues to rise in India’s heat-stricken regions, putting immense pressure on the country’s health system.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, 119 people have died from heat-related illnesses over the last several days.

The neighbouring Bihar state reported 47 fatalities, according to local news reports and health officials. They are two of the poorest states in the country according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index report.

“So many people are dying from the heat that we are not getting a minute’s time to rest,” says Jitendra Kumar Yadav, a hearse driver in Deoria town, 110 kilometres from Ballia in the state of Uttar Pradesh. “On Sunday, I carried 26 dead bodies.”

Other residents say they fear going outside after midmorning.

The largest hospital in the Ballia district is unable to accommodate more patients. Officials said the morgue was full after 54 people - all of whom were elderly and suffering from various health issues - died during the heatwave.

Some families were asked to take the bodies of their relatives home.

Although northern regions of India typically experience sweltering heat during summer months, temperatures have been consistently above normal recently.

Some areas have experienced highs of 43.5 degrees Celsius. A heat wave is declared in India if temperatures are at least 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal, or if the temperature is above 45C.

“We have been issuing heat wave warnings for the past few days,” said Atul Kumar Singh, a scientist at the IMD.

Government officials didn’t ask people to prepare for the heat until Sunday, however, when the death toll began to rise.

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On Sunday, the state health minister, Brajesh Pathak, said a two-member team will look into what caused the large number of deaths and investigate how many of them are directly related to heat.

Power outages amid India heatwave

The heat stress is also exacerbated by power outages across the Uttar Pradesh region, leaving people with no running water, fans or air conditioners.

The state’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the government was taking measures to ensure an uninterrupted power supply.

He also urged residents to cooperate and use electricity judiciously.

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“Every village and every city should receive adequate power supply during this scorching heat. If any faults occur, they should be promptly addressed,” he said in a statement on Friday.

In the Ballia district hospital, wards have no functioning air conditioners and cooling units that were installed were not working properly due to power fluctuations.

Attendants have been fanning patients with books and wiping their sweat in an attempt to keep them cool.

“All our staff have been here for three days straight and are completely overworked,” says Dr Aditya Singh, an emergency medical officer.

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Climate experts say that heatwaves will continue and India needs to be better prepared to deal with their consequences.

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