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Freezing Cold Kills 1,170 in South Asia

January 15, 2003

LUCKNOW, India (AP) _ Authorities distributed blankets and dry fire wood to hundreds of thousands of homeless people as a four-week cold spell continued after claiming 1,170 lives in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, officials and news reports said Wednesday

Seventy-eight people died overnight in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which recorded low temperatures of as low as 33 Fahrenheit, pushing the death toll there to 437 since Dec. 20, a state government official said on condition of anonymity.

Sixty others have perished in India’s eastern Bihar state, officials in the state’s relief department confirmed Wednesday. Closure of schools has been extended until Jan. 20, as icy winds pushed temperatures down to 36 Fahrenheit in Gaya, where thousands of Buddhists have gathered for annual prayers led by the Dalai Lama.

In Bangladesh, where temperatures fell to 41 Fahrenheit, 30 more deaths were reported on Tuesday. The cold spell has claimed 642 lives in the country.

Such temperatures can be fatal in this part of the world where winters are typically mild and where millions live in shacks or mud-and-thatch houses without heat or electricity. Millions more have no homes and sleep outdoors.

Also Tuesday, at least eight people died because of cold in the Himalayan nation of Nepal, bringing the total number of deaths there to 35, a news report said on Wednesday.

The Kantipur newspaper said most deaths have occurred in Rahutahat district, 100 miles south of Katmandu, the Nepalese capital.

Schools have been shut until next week, and the administration was distributing fire wood to the homeless to keep themselves warm.

Government officials in India have also distributed wood and ordered public bonfires to be lit to keep people warm at night in cities. In rural villages, however, wood is scarce and must be gathered by hand.

In India and Bangladesh, the government was distributing blankets and warm clothing to the homeless.

Meteorologists in Dhaka said the cold spell was likely to continue for another two days. It has damaged rice seedlings.

``The cold weather is causing serious damages to winter crops,″ said Abdullah Rahim, a farmer in northern Dinajpur district, 170 miles north of the capital, Dhaka.

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