More than 500 people have died in India from a days-long heatwave that has seen temperatures nudging 50 degrees Celsius, officials say.
Officials warned the toll was likely to rise, with figures still being collected in some parts of the hard-hit Telangana state in the south of the country, and with no end in sight to the searing conditions.
Large parts of India, including national capital New Delhi, have endured days of sweltering heat, prompting fears of power cuts.
Most of the 539 recorded deaths have been of construction workers, the elderly or the homeless in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, officials said, but some deaths have also occurred in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.
Andhra Pradesh authorities are urging labourers and others not to work long hours in the heat of the day after 325 people died from the high temperatures there in the last week.
“The majority of the victims are people who have been exposed to the sun directly, usually aged 50 and above and from the working classes,” P Tulsi Rani, special commissioner of Andhra Pradesh’s disaster management department, said.
Mr Rani said although the deaths started occurring on Monday last week, the number of cases increased towards the end of the week after days of scorching heat.
“We are asking them to take precautions like using an umbrella, using a cap, taking a huge quantity of liquids like water and buttermilk, and wearing cotton clothing,” he said.
Another 204 people have died in Telangana, mostly since the middle of last week, officials said.
Hundreds of people, mostly from poorer sections of society, die at the height of summer every year across the country, while tens of thousands suffer power cuts from an overburdened electricity grid.
“The kind of heatwave we are seeing now is slightly higher than normal. The temperatures here have almost touched 48-49 degrees Celsius,” Telangana revenue secretary BR Meena said.
Poorly paid workers said they could barely afford to heed the warnings to stay at home to avoid the worst of the heat.
“I am a diabetes patient, but I have no husband and no sons, so I have to stay here and keep shop,” said P Gangamma, 65, who runs a cigarette stand at a busy intersection in Telangana’s capital, Hyderabad.
Gurunath Patil, who plies his auto rickshaw in the capital eight hours a day, said “you can’t make money sitting at home”.
Several deaths have also been reported in the north-western desert state of Rajasthan in recent days including a woman who collapsed and died on the roadside in Bundi city, the Press Trust of India said.
In the eastern city of Kolkata, taxi unions have urged drivers to stay off the roads between 11:00am and 4:00pm because of the heat.
India’s weather bureau warned that “heatwave to severe heatwave conditions would prevail” in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in coming days as well as in the northern states and New Delhi.