May 6: North Bengal’s craving for rain turned into a death wish for at least three persons today as lightning strikes tempered the relief brought about by thundershowers.
In Malda, Irfan Ali, 16, and his nephew Babar Sheikh, 6, died when lightning struck a group of children looking for fallen mangoes following a thundershower in Jadupur Kamalbari in the Englishbazar police station area. One more boy was seriously injured in the incident, which took place around 2.30 this afternoon.
Another lightning strike killed a 65-year-old woman, Brahma Barman, in Barduari, North Dinajpur, during a thundershower that swept through a 30-sq km area of the district around 3 pm. The storm, which lasted for close to 40 minutes, flattened around 150 huts and damaged crops in Barduari, Panishala, Maharaja and Shitgram. Raiganj town, located more than 10 km from the ravaged area, also saw light showers and a mild hailstorm.
Further north, heavy rain lashed Cooch Behar town and its surrounding areas between 7 pm and 9 pm.
Despite the deaths, the rain came as a pleasant surprise to the region, which has had only 80 mm of rainfall in April this year, compared to the customary 180 mm. Subir Sarkar, the in-charge of the weather station at North Bengal University, said the month of May usually sees around 400 mm of rainfall. This year, till now, that figure stands at 40 mm.
The heat has already claimed two lives in the region. Last Wednesday, Mohammad Ibrahim and Upen Das, both farm labourers, died while working in the field at Phansidewa, around 30 km from Siliguri.
Doctors here have been busy advising people on how to avoid heat-related problems (see chart).
“As the weather is humid, the chances of sunstroke are low, but one should always be on guard,” a doctor here said. He added that the number of patients suffering from fever and gastro-enteric problems is on the rise.
The dry spell had also left tea researchers and officials of the state agriculture department worried about low yields.
The rise in temperature across the state, however, had resulted in a windfall for tour operators.
“Thousands of tourists are swarming to Darjeeling, Gangtok and other hill stations to chill out,” said Gopal Lama, the deputy director of tourism (north Bengal). “People from the plains of north Bengal are also joining this brigade.”
Lama added that currently around 5,000 people were making a beeline for the hill towns every day, which is at least 1,000-1,500 more than the footfall recorded in the same period in previous years.