Lightning kills nearly 50 people this week in Indian state

LUCKNOW (AP) — Seven people, mostly farmers, were killed by lightning in a village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, police said yesterday, raising the number of lightning deaths to 49 people in the state this week.

Farmers had taken shelter under trees during heavy monsoon rain when they were struck by lightning on Tuesday and died instantly.

The victims included four family members and cattle herders near the town of Kaushambi, according to Kaushambi police officer Hem Raj Meena.

The high death toll prompted the government to issue new guidelines on how people can protect themselves during a thunderstorm, state government spokesman Shishir Singh said.

A farmer describes the scene where a victim was killed by lightning in the village of Piparaon in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. PHOTO: AP

“More people die from lightning than from rain-related incidents, although this is when people (usually) die from floods or other rain-related incidents,” Singh said.

The monsoon season in India runs from June to September.

Colonel Sanjay Srivastava, who works with India’s meteorological department, said lightning had killed nearly 750 people across India since April. This includes 20 people who died in eastern Bihar state in the past two days and 16 in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state earlier this month.

The director general of the Center for Science and the Environment, Sunita Narain, said global warming plays a role in the increasing number of lightning strikes. A rise in temperature of one degree Celsius multiplies by 12 the lightning.

Srivastava said deforestation, depletion of water bodies and pollution all contribute to climate change, leading to more lightning strikes.

Meteorological department director JP Gupta said thunderstorms and lightning have increased this year due to an increase in pollution levels.

“The high temperature of the ground leads to the evaporation of water masses which adds humidity to the atmosphere. The presence of aerosols due to air pollution creates favorable conditions for storm clouds to trigger lightning activity,” Gupta said.

More than 200 people have been killed in heavy downpours and landslides in Indian states including Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim, while 42 people have died in Bangladesh since May 17.

Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced during the monsoon season.

Christina A. Kroll