539 people are reported to have died in a heatwave sweeping India, with temperatures reaching 48C (118F) in some areas.
Most of the 539 recorded deaths have been of construction workers, the elderly, or the homeless in the rural southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, officials said, but some deaths have also occurred in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.
Heatwave conditions have been prevailing since mid-April, but most of the deaths have happened in the past week.
Andhra Pradesh has been hit the worst. BBC reported that 246 people have died from the brutal heat in Andhra Pradesh state in the past week. State officials said 62 people died of sunstroke on Sunday.
In neighboring Telangana state, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said the heatwave had killed 186 people between Wednesday and Saturday, with 58 people dying since Saturday.
That number is feared to be an underestimate of the true toll in the city of 9.8 million people and an official figure has not yet been released.
Roads and markets were deserted in many cities and towns. In the main city in the state capital, Kolkata, taxi drivers of non air-conditioned taxis are urged not to work between 11am and 4pm after two drivers died in their cabs from heat stroke.
Poorly paid workers said they could barely afford to heed the warnings to stay at home to avoid the worst of the heat.
“I am a diabetes patient, but I have no husband and no sons, so I have to stay here and keep shop,” said P Gangamma, 65, runs a cigarette stand at a busy intersection in Telangana’s capital, Hyderabad.
Local authorities announced a compensation payment of near $1,100 USD to relatives of those killed.
Temperatures rose to above 45C (113F) in the capital, Delhi. The highest temperature ever recorded in the capital was 47.2C (116.9F), in May 1944. The record India is thought to be 50.6C (123F), recorded in 1956 in the northern town of Alwar.
Across the country, there were power cuts as India’s inadequate electricity networks sought to fulfill record demand. Shopping malls, which are air-conditioned and often have their own generators to keep customers cool during frequent outages, recorded a surge in visitors.
“We see more and more people walk in, spend some time here and walk out without buying anything. But we understand. It’s terribly hot outside,” Nasir, a security guard at a mall in the city of Patna, told the Times of India newspaper.
Meteorological officials said the heatwave was due to a lack of rain and is likely to provide no relief for the next four days.
The monsoon, predicted to hit southern India’s coastline on May 31st, will bring relief from the high temperatures, but it will not reach the parched north of the country for several weeks.
Authorities have urged people to stay indoors and drink plenty of fluids.
“We are asking them to take precautions like using an umbrella, using a cap, taking a huge quantity of liquids like water and buttermilk, and wearing cotton clothing,” P Tulsi Rani, special commissioner of Andhra Pradesh’s disaster management department, said.