By Mayank Bhardwaj and Ruma Paul
NEW DELHI/DHAKA (Reuters) – The second coldest weather in 119 years sweeping across western and northern India has led to dense fog, killing at least six people and disrupting many parts of the country, including the capital New Delhi.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state, six people were killed when their car skidded off the road and plunged into a canal. Police said heavy fog was to blame.
As dense fog blanketed the vast country and the sprawling city of Delhi, home to 20 million people, visibility dropped sharply.
Sixteen flights were diverted, four were cancelled and about 500 delayed in Delhi, local media reported.
“Due to dense fog and poor visibility in the northern region, our flights are impacted,” IndiGo, India’s biggest airline by market share, said in a Tweet.
Indian airline Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines Ltd, cancelled six flights, citing poor visibility.
SpiceJet Ltd and AirAsia India also cancelled flights and authorities said train services were running late.
The city government of Delhi has moved many homeless people to temporary shelters, but a large number of them are still sleeping outdoors.
Winters in western and northern India have become colder in recent years, which experts say is due to climate change and rapid urbanization, and it is common in Delhi to see families sleeping on pavements and railway platforms, and under flyovers.
“Keeping in mind the average December temperature, we’re on course to endure the coldest month in 119 years,” Kuldeep Srivastava, a senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department, told Reuters.
“We expect cold wave conditions to continue for quite some time with some temporary respite for a day or two.”
The minimum temperature recorded in Delhi on Sunday was 2.8 degrees Celsius (37.04 Fahrenheit), a little higher than the 2.4 degrees Celsius seen on Saturday, the lowest since 2013.
“Low-hanging clouds over the western and northern parts of the country, cool winds blowing from the Himalayan regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and snowfall in the hilly areas around Delhi have led to a sharp drop in the temperature,” Srivastava said.
Freezing weather continued in northern Bangladesh where at least 50 people have died due to the cold.
The country’s lowest temperature this year was recorded at 4.5 degrees Celsius (40.1° Fahrenheit) on Sunday in Tetulia, a border town in northern Bangladesh.
“The cold wave drifting down from the Himalayas has adversely affected all kinds of business establishments, including farming, restaurants, and retail shops,” said Aisha Nuri, a leading government official.
A prolonged cold spell in Bangladesh could hit the rice crop, said Mizanur Rahman, a senior official at the agriculture ministry.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces to move homeless people to shelters.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad and Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, editing by Ed Osmond)