NEW DELHI — Thunder, lightning and dust storms are creating havoc across India.
The storms, which tore through cities last week and are continuing now, have caused at least 124 deaths, according to local reports. In many places, schools have been forced to close and power supplies has been cut off.
Of a type known as a “haboob” — an onslaught of violent, dusty winds that are usually associated with Sudan — the storms have destroyed tin homes, uprooted trees and electricity poles, halted trains and devastated crop and livestock.
People told local news reporters stories of how their entire life's earnings were lost as the storms devastated homes, while others described being pulled out from under debris.
“It can be called a freak incident,” Mahesh Palawat, chief meteorologist at Skymet Weather, told the Hindustan Times. “Dust storms are usually not this intense, nor do these systems cover such a large area.”
“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 state, told the BBC.
Dust storms happen frequently around this time of year and can be very dangerous. Visibility drops rapidly, and strong winds can result in falling branches and debris.
Cellphone footage from the western city of Bikaner showed rolling clouds gathering over the city. In one video, the man behind the camera said, “The storm has come, the storm has come,” as a wall of dust surrounded him. “It is very dangerous, brother,” the man added.
According to India's meteorological department, the storms may have been caused by high temperatures and a “western disturbance,” which originates in the Mediterranean and brings sudden winter rains to India.
Last week, the worst storms in six years struck India, the Times of India reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Saddened by the loss of lives due to dust storms in various parts of India. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon.”
He announced that families of those who died or were injured would be compensated.
The storms were particularly bad in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. Though local reports vary on numbers, dozens of people reportedly died. Many other cities around the country were also affected.
Authorities warned citizens to stay indoors during the storms and unplug electrical equipment due to risks of lightning. They also warned commuters to be wary of falling branches and debris.