At least 800 people have died in a major heatwave that has swept across India, melting roads in New Delhi as temperatures neared 50C.
Hospitals were on alert to treat victims of heatstroke and authorities advised people to stay indoors, with no end in sight to the searing conditions.
India’s meteorological department said it had issued heat warnings to several states where temperatures were forecast to top 45C over the next few days. “As of now, we don’t predict any respite from the extreme heatwave for the next few days,” said B.P. Yadav, department spokesman.
Hundreds of people – mainly from the poorest sections of society – die at the height of summer every year across the country, while tens of thousands suffer power cuts from an overburdened electricity grid.
Streets were deserted in Hyderabad, capital of the worst-hit state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, where 551 people have died in the past week.
P. Gangamma, a Hyderabad street vendor, said the heat was making her head pound, but she had no choice but to stay outside.
“For the past three days hot wind has been coming in,” said the 65-year-old, who sells cigarettes on a busy intersection. “I am a diabetes patient, but I have no husband and no sons, so I have to stay here and keep shop.”
Large parts of India, including the capital New Delhi, have endured days of sweltering heat, prompting fears of power cuts as energy-guzzling air conditioners work overtime.
The Hindustan Times daily said the maximum temperature in the capital hit a two-year high of 45C on Monday – five degrees higher than the seasonal average.
The paper carried a front-page photo showing white pedestrian crossing stripes on the city’s main road curling and spreading into the melting black asphalt.
In Telangana state, which borders Andhra Pradesh in the south, 231 people have died in the past week as temperatures hit 47C. In the western state of Orissa 11 people were confirmed to have died from the heat. A further 13 people have died in the eastern state of West Bengal, where unions urged drivers in Kolkata to stay off the roads during the day.
The Hindustan Times warned that some of the hot, dry conditions could plunge the worst-affected states into drought before monsoon rains arrive.
The monsoon is forecast to hit the southern state of Kerala towards the end of this month before sweeping across the country, but it will be weeks before the rains reach the arid northern plains.