World News

Devastating Dust Storm Strikes India, Killing at Least 94

Posted May 3, 2018 10:24 a.m. EDT

NEW DELHI — A powerful dust storm ripped through northern India on Wednesday, killing at least 94 people and toppling houses, trees and electricity poles, government officials said.

The storm damaged communities in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, where more than 400 people were injured as thunder pierced the sky and visibility plummeted. Cities and villages in at least four other states lost power, authorities said.

Witnesses described being shocked by the storm’s speed and the devastation left in its path.

A resident of the village of Khakhawali in Rajasthan, who goes only by the name Surendra, said that within a few short minutes, “dust gathered with such speed” that it was impossible to see “millimeters away or keep my eyes open.”

“There was the clanking sound of tin roofs being blown away and motorcycles getting dragged,” he said. “Utensils, clothing, it seemed like everything was flying away. We found it hard to stay rooted. The whooshing sound of the wind made our children howl.”

Damage was caused by flying debris, lightning and rain as wind speeds in some areas reached 100 mph.

By the end of the storm, a young girl who was buried under rubble in the village had died, and a woman nearly lost her arm after she was struck by a tin rooftop that had been dislodged by the wind.

Hemant Gera, who oversees disaster management in Rajasthan, said the storm was the worst to hit the state in nearly three decades. Many people died in their sleep after their homes were destroyed, he said.

“The storm struck when people were all at home,” he said. “Mud walls collapsed, burying them under it. In many places, trees were uprooted and people were hit by the trunks and branches, resulting in injuries.”

Gera said that the families of those killed would each be given about $6,000 in compensation.

Mahesh Palawat, a meteorologist at Skymet Weather Services, a private forecaster, called the storm a “freak incident,” telling The Hindustan Times that dust storms were not usually as large or intense as the one that hit the country Wednesday. Other meteorologists said abnormally high temperatures in parts of northern India had contributed to the storm’s formation.

The Indian National Disaster Management Authority provided updates on Twitter, writing that the worst-hit district was Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, where at least 36 people were killed. Over 150 animals also died during the storm, the government agency said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences, writing on Twitter that he was “saddened by the loss of lives.” He directed officials to assist those who had been affected by the storm.