Forest fire adds to heat wave woes

LUCKNOW (India): Six people, including four children, died in a forest fire in northern India during a scorching heat wave that has killed more than 1,300 people across the country, an official said yesterday. 

The victims were collecting sap from trees when they were killed on Wednesday in the fire, which is raging in three districts in the Garhwal Himalayas, known for their pine forests and colourful rhododendrons, the government official said. 

“You can see the whole area engulfed in smoke. At night it looks like a giant fireball,” he said from Uttaranchal's state capital, Dehradun. 

Large parts of India have been reeling under a three-week heat wave in which temperatures have touched 49°C.  

Most of the deaths have been in Andhra Pradesh state. 

Many of the victims have been street hawkers and pavement dwellers. 

Indians are flocking to temples and mosques to pray for rain and large parts of the country face water shortages after lakes, rivers and wells dried up because of last year's failed monsoon. 

Tens of thousands of people are trekking many kilometres in search of wells that still have water or waiting hours under the sun for water tankers. 

The annual monsoon arrived in north-eastern India yesterday, several days late. The rains will take several weeks to work their way across India. 

In Bangladesh, heavy rain lashed Dhaka and other parts of the country, bringing relief after weeks of a hot spell that killed about 40 people. 

Weather officials said the rain could lead to a slightly earlier start of the three-month monsoon, which usually begins in the middle of this month. The weather office said it expected more rain in the next few days. – Reuters  

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