77 killed as powerful dust storms ravage north India

New Delhi: Dust storms tore across northern India killing at least 77 people and injuring 143 as trees and walls were flattened by powerful winds, officials said Thursday. The overnight storm ravaged Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan states and the death toll was expected to rise, officials said. There were 46 confirmed deaths in Uttar Pradesh in the north and 31 in the desert state of Rajasthan to the west.

The Agra district of Uttar Pradesh was one of the worst hit with more than 30 people killed. The Taj Mahal is in Agra city but officials said the monument escaped damage. Most of the victims were hit by falling walls, trees and electric pylons and houses that collapsed. “We can confirm at least 46 deaths, 41 injuries from around 40 of the state’s 75 districts,” T.P. Gupta of the Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner’s office told AFP.

He said there were 36 deaths in Agra district. Officials said 157 animals were also killed across the state. Three districts in Rajasthan, a state popular with tourists for its heritage palaces and colourful culture, were hit the hardest.

“Most of (the) 31 deaths and 102 injuries across our state were from three districts Alwar, Dholpur and Bharatpur,” Hemant Gera, Rajasthan’s Disaster Management and Relief Department’s secretary, told AFP. Power supply was cut in Bharatpur as more than 1,000 electricity pylons were destroyed. Officials said it could take more than two days to restore power.

The state government quickly released funds to compensate the families of those killed or suffered damage. “Saddened by the loss of lives due to dust storms in various parts of India. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.

“Have asked officials to coordinate with the respective state governments and work towards assisting those who have been affected,” he added. Last month, a storm killed at least 15 people in Uttar Pradesh and destroyed two ancient pillars at the entryways to the Taj Mahal.