At least 70 people were killed in lightning strikes in several Indian states on Sunday as massive thunderstorms battered parts of the country ahead of the annual monsoon season.
Those killed included farmers, pedestrians and tourists taking selfies at a historic fort in eastern Rajasthan state, officials said.
At least 11 visitors were killed and a dozen more injured when a lightning bolt struck them as they took selfies on top of a watchtower on the ramparts of the 12th century Amer Fort in Jaipur.
Police said most of the visitors were locals who had climbed the tower to have a bird’s-eye view of the city during the thunderstorm.
Emergency workers rushed to the spot and found many people with burn injuries and lying unconscious.
“They were tourists who were visiting the fort. Two siblings had come from Punjab state. They were enjoying rains at the watchtower when the lightning struck them at around 6pm,” Antar Singh Nehra, top civil officer, told The National.
“They were mostly young people. The injured were taken to hospitals and are undergoing treatment.”
Police said nine more people died, including four children across the state who were out grazing their livestock when the lightning struck them.
Lightning strikes are common in the region between April and June. But experts say they are rare during the month of July, when the annual monsoon season covers the entire subcontinent.
Large parts of western and northern India, including capital New Delhi, continue to reel under intense heat after a weeks-long delay in the rainy season.
Police in neighboring Uttar Pradesh said at least 41 people were killed by lightning on Sunday. Another seven were killed in central Madhya Pradesh state.
Fourteen of the dead came from Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj district.
“Six people were planting seedlings for their rice crop, and two children were shepherds who were out grazing their cattle … some had taken shelter under a tree when the lightning struck but died,” a police officer in Prayagraj told The National.
In one village, dozens of goats were killed in the strike. The farmer survived by taking shelter in a hut.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sadness over the loss of life and announced monetary aid to the families of the deceased.
Lightning kills more than 2,000 people a year in India, accounting for nearly 42,500 deaths between 2001 and 2018, according to government data.
Last year, in one of the deadliest incidents of lightning strikes in the country, 120 people were killed in a single day. In 2018, the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh had recorded 36,749 lightning strikes in 13 hours.
While the country has technology to forecast lightning and thunderstorms, there is a lack of public awareness to deal with the natural phenomenon.
The country’s government has started a Lightning-Resilient India Campaign that aims to eliminate lightning deaths by ensuring timely warnings are issued and increasing public awareness of the danger.
India is witnessing extreme weather patterns in recent years due to climate change, including intense heat and cold, thunderstorms and flooding.
Climate change will raise the average temperature in the country by 4.4 degrees by 2100, according to a 2020 Ministry of Earth Sciences report.
“This is a cause of climate change, an economic disorder that we have created due to unplanned developments and cutting of trees. This is an extreme change in weather pattern,” Mahesh Palawat, vice president of private weather forecaster Skymet, told The National.
“It is a pre-monsoon phenomenon in April-May or when the monsoon withdraws but in July, lightning is very rare but we will continue witnessing this because of climate change.”