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Killer Heat Wave Claims Over 1,000 Lives in India - 2003-06-05

A severe heat wave sweeping many parts India has killed more than 1,200 people. But weather officials say relief may be on the way in the worst affected regions of Southern India.

For nearly three weeks, the killer heat wave has held the southern Andhra Pradesh State in its grip, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people.

Most of the victims have died of dehydration and heat stroke. Bijoy Patro, a senior official at the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, says the poorest people are the worst affected.

"It is people who are working out there under the scorching heat of the sun - construction labor, farm labor, they are the most vulnerable people," he said.

However, the worst may soon be over for Southern India. The Director of India's Weather Department, Onkari Prasad, says the hot, northerly winds that sent temperatures soaring above normal are receding and cooling monsoon rains are expected to break the hot spell within days.

"We are expecting monsoon to set in over coastal areas within three to four days, once the monsoon sets in over peninsular India, the heat wave conditions will subside further," he said.

But the hot weather is now intensifying across the dusty plains of North India, with temperatures in several regions topping 46 C.

In the Himalayan foothills in Uttar Pradesh State, officials say the scorching heat triggered massive forest fires. A spell of overnight rain doused the flames, but not before six people collecting sap from the forests died.

The heat has also dried up rivers, lakes and wells in many parts of the country, intensifying water scarcity caused by a drought last year. In a New Delhi neighborhood, angry residents took to the streets Thursday, asking authorities to augment the daily water supply.

Officials say wildlife in sanctuaries is also affected In Andhra Pradesh there have been some reports of animals raiding villages in search of food and water.

The hot spell in North India is expected to continue until early July. The monsoon touches the South of the country in early June, but takes nearly a month to bring rain and relief to the north. Monsoon rains have already arrived in the northeast and also Bangladesh