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Friday 14 December 2018

Nine killed as 36,749 lightning strikes hit state during freak storms

Stock image of lightning
Stock image of lightning

Colin Drury

A nine-year-old girl and her grandmother were among nine people killed during days of lightning strikes in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The freak storms, which saw 36,749 strikes in just 13 hours, injured dozens of people including a group of 10 agricultural labourers working in a single field.

Extreme weather patterns have been blamed for the conditions.

Fatal lightning is not uncommon in India during the monsoon season, which runs from June to October. More than 2,000 people have been killed nationwide by strikes every year since 2005 according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

But the sheer severity of this week's storm has taken officials and residents by surprise.

Cold winds from the Arabian Sea collided with warmer gusts from northern India producing more clouds than usual, Kishan Sanku, who runs the state emergency operation centre, told the BBC. This increased the chance of lightning.

What has made conditions particularly unique, he added, is that the cloud cover extended for more than 124 miles.

"Usually it is in patches, around 15-16km," he said . "In our experience, this is very rare."

India’s high death toll from lightning strikes is blamed on both the fact that large numbers of people work outdoors and the lack of a reliable weather warning system.

But Mr Sanku said his office has made people more aware of the dangers, alerting district officials on messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram, and making announcements on TV and radio telling people to stay indoors.

There is also a subscription-based alert system for mobile phone users.

“But we are not able to alert the people working in the fields because they don't carry their phones with them,” he said.

Independent News Service

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