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Over 550 people die in southern scorcher

Hyderabad, June 20: At least 581 people have died of heat in the past month in Andhra and Telangana, but weather officials held out hope of relief saying the monsoon would arrive in a few days.

In Andhra, 49 of the 371 deaths occurred on a single day last Saturday in Vizianagaram — the coastal district that has clocked the highest casualty count of 127 this season.

Most of the deaths have been blamed on sunstroke and dehydration, with temperatures hovering around 47C in several districts of both states.

In Hyderabad and other towns of Telangana, the mercury has hit 49.5C on some days with frequent power outages adding to the residents’ woes.

The data on the deaths (as on June 19) are based on the “Action Taken Report on Heat Wave Conditions in 2014” released by the revenue disaster management department today.

The new government of Telangana and the Andhra administration have announced a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh each for the families of the victims.

Official sources said 574 people had died last year in united Andhra and compared it with this year’s 581 fatalities.

The sources said the increase was marginal despite the scorching heat mainly because of better facilities — particularly adequate supply of drinking water — provided in the regions ahead of polls this year by the Congress government of united Andhra. Telangana was formed on June 2.

Last summer, united Andhra had reeled under acute water shortage as the Telangana agitation — including a 70-day strike by state staff — and the anti-statehood protests in the Seemandhra region had virtually paralysed the government.

“Around 574 people had died amid acute water shortage in last year’s season of agitations,” said an official.

Matters seem to have improved this time. Special water tankers are being sent to villages in arid coastal Andhra where the heat is not only claiming human lives but also hitting farming, particularly coconut, banana and cashew plantations.

“We had to arrange for water coolers and water sprays in our fields to protect our cash crops,”' said Prabhakar Rao, a farmer at Amalapuram in East Godavari district.

The delayed monsoons have added to the agony. Officials said the rains were more than two weeks behind schedule, leading to a drop in the cultivation area by at least five lakh hectares in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.

Several tonnes of fresh-water fish — bred in large tanks and ponds from where supplies are sent to several states including Bengal — and at least 3,000 cattle have perished in the two regions, the officials said.

The situation is similar in many areas of Telangana, which has accounted for 210 of this year’s 581 deaths.

But relief is in sight. The weather office said the heat-wave conditions would ease this weekend and that the monsoon was likely to arrive in the next couple of days.

M. Narasimha Rao, assistant controller at the Hyderabad Meteorological Centre, said the conditions were favourable for the rains to advance and reach the region in the next 72 hours.

But hopes from the imminent arrival of the monsoon have been tempered by predictions of a 20-35 per cent shortfall this year.