Severe winds and rapid-fire lightning strikes from a violent dust storm demolished homes and displaced trees across India on Wednesday, killing at least 125 people and injuring more than 200 others — with more potentially deadly weather still to come, officials said.
At least 111 people were killed in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, with many of them in Agra, the city that houses the Taj Mahal, according to BBC News and Agence France-Presse.
Another 14 people were killed in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, “which was hammered by more than 41,000 lightning strikes on Wednesday,” AFP reported.
Homes and businesses now lay in rubble littered with downed trees and electrical lines.
Livestock are dead. Schools are closed.
And residents are bracing for another storm that’s predicted to strike in a few days: The Indian Express reported early Thursday that Indian Meteorological Department scientist Himanshu Sharma warned of another round of dangerous weather likely to strike the area.
“There is a high probability that winds will intensify in the next 48 hours in Rajasthan, which may lead to another dust storm,” he told the Press Trust of India. “It will affect areas of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan border, especially Karauli and Dholpur.”
The majority of the deaths were in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, in the north.
The death toll in Rajasthan soared past three dozen, and the number may continue to climb, according to the Indian Express. The worst damage was in the Bharatpur district, according to the newspaper. “Most of the deaths occurred after walls and roofs of houses collapsed in the middle of the night,” T. Ravikanth, the district divisional commissioner in the state capital, Jaipur, told CNN.
Dust storms have hit India in the past, but officials said what made this storm so deadly was the fallen debris.
“Many houses collapsed due to high intensity winds, or the trees fell over onto the houses,” Sanjay Kumar, Uttar Pradesh’s state relief commissioner for the National Disaster Management Authority in India, told CNN, explaining how residents had become trapped and died.
India’s National Disaster Management Authority issued an alert earlier in the week, warning residents about “severe thunderstorm activity” with hail and strong wind gusts in Gangetic West Bengal and Odisha, as well as other areas in eastern and northeastern India — but not specifically Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
“I’ve been in office for 20 years, and this is the worst I’ve seen,” Hemant Gera, secretary for disaster management and relief in Rajasthan, told BBC News about the storm.
“We had a high intensity dust storm on 11 April — 19 people died then — but this time it struck during the night, so many people sleeping and couldn’t get out of their houses when mud walls collapsed.”
Shivam Lohia, who owns a resort hotel in Rajasthan, told AFP that his car was almost blown away in the storm. He abandoned the vehicle on a road, he said, and ran for his life.
“Everyone was scared and running for cover as trees and homes were getting blown away,” Lohia said. “It was a nightmare.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement Thursday that he was “saddened by the loss of lives” and that he has asked state governments to provide assistance to those who need it.