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South Asia Cold Spell Kills 1,830 People

January 24, 2003

PATNA, India (AP) _ Officials in India’s eastern state of Bihar began distributing blankets and wood to hundreds of thousands of homeless people on Friday as the death toll from a monthlong cold spell rose to more than 1,830 across South Asia, most in India.

Twenty-three more people died of exposure in Bangladesh, 12 in India and nine in Nepal. Most were elderly and children.

Overall, 1,005 people have died in India of the bitter weather that began in mid-December, according to officials and newspaper reports.

South Asians are particularly vulnerable to the cold because millions sleep in unheated homes or outdoors, usually without great risk as winters tend to be mild. For example, New Delhi’s average temperature in January is 58 degrees.

In Bihar Thursday, the low was 41 degrees.

Twelve more deaths were reported, bringing the official toll in Bihar to 128, said Navin Verma, state relief and rehabilitation commissioner.

But local newspapers have reported some 570 deaths and some officials also say privately the toll is higher than 128.

The state closed schools and colleges indefinitely and declared a disaster, enabling it to seek federal help. It also began distributing 2 million blankets and wood to the hundreds of thousands of homeless, Verma said.

In Bangladesh, meanwhile, temperatures dipped to 38 degrees in the northwestern district of Rajshahi _ the coldest in 35 years, according to the weather office in the capital, Dhaka.

``I can’t even touch water. It’s cold like ice,″ said Shahina Khatoon, a 55-year-old housemaid in Dhaka.

Update hourly