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India storms: Extreme weather kills 54 as strong winds bring down trees, homes and power lines


Strong winds, lightning and thunderstorms have swept through northern and eastern India, killing at least 54 people in vulnerable communities across five states.

The latest in a string of deadly storms in the region, Monday nights extreme weather system brought down power lines, uprooted trees and destroyed simple mud homes.

The worst affected region appears to have been the eastern state of Bihar, where 19 people died, including 11 due to lightning, Bihar’s disaster management department said in a statement.

At least 17 people died in Uttar Pradesh, Indias most populous state, local government officials said.

Winds were recorded at speeds of up to 50mph, said state spokesman Awanish Awasthi, and six of those killed were in two houses that collapsed in Unnao district, 25 miles south of the state capital Lucknow.

Another 12 people died in Jharkhand, east of Bihar, the head of that states disaster management department said. Four were killed in Madhya Pradesh and two people died in the Malda district of Bengal.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) issued warnings for more extreme weather to come throughout the remainder of the week.

The most severe red warnings were in place for Rajasthan, where both heatwave conditions temperatures have been reaching the mid-40s (C) daily for the past week and dust storms were expected.

And while thunderstorms could bring some much-needed relief from the sweltering heatwave conditions in the rest of northern India, there will be concerns for further loss of life among poorer and rural communities.

The weather often takes an extreme turn in northern India at this time of year, as the blistering summer heat prepares to give way to annual monsoon rains. News reports heralded the arrival of the monsoon on Tuesday, a few days early, in south-western Kerala.

But this year the impacts have been particularly devastating. In the last few weeks, one storm killed 134 people and another killed 43.

Meteorologists say the most deadly storm at the start of May was the result of what is known as a downburst, an intense downward movement of wind that can be especially destructive to buildings. IMD officials said it was the worst storm to hit the region for 20 years.

Mrutyunjay Mahapatra, a senior climate scientist with the IMD, told the Hindustan Times there were a number of factors leading to an increase in the amount of thunderstorms and lightning this year. He said an unusually large number of weather systems coming in from the west had combined with the long dry spell and hot weather conditions to create the perfect conditions for deadly storms.

Air pollution is also a contributing factor exacerbating seasonal storms in the region, according to a 2011 study in Nature. Figures released this month by the World Health Organisation showed India is home to 14 of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet.

And climate scientists have also warned that more severe droughts, and growing desertification of Indias land, are likely to lead to worsening seasonal storms in years to come.



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