A heatwave in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi has killed more than 450 people, authorities said yesterday, as morgues overflowed with the dead and overwhelmed hospitals struggled to help those clinging to life.
Temperatures of up to 45C (113F) began scorching the port city over the weekend. Power cuts lasting hours, typical in Pakistan, also struck, leaving fans and air conditioners inoperable as most people in what is a mainly Muslim country abstained from food or water during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The power cuts also affected the city’s sporadic water supply. Those citizens who can afford it rely on tankers delivering water to their homes. Some men cooled themselves yesterday under the pouring water of a broken water pipe.
A spokeswoman for Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital said most of those who had succumbed to the heat were elderly.
“More than 200 of them were either received dead or died in hospital,” she said.
Hundreds more are being treated for heat-related ailments, including fever and dehydration and stomach complaints, she said. Mortuaries were running out of space, with local television showing bodies stacked inside morgues’ cold stores.
Pakistan’s largest charity, Edhi Welfare Organisation, said its two morgues in the city had received more than 400 corpses.
“More than 400 dead bodies have been received in our two mortuaries in the past three days,” a spokesman said. “They have reached capacity.”
Tahir Ashrafi, a prominent Islamic cleric, urged those who were at risk of heatstroke to abstain from fasting.
“We [religious scholars] have highlighted it on various television channels that those who are at risk, especially in Karachi where there is a very serious situation, should abstain from fasting,” he said.
Provincial chief minister Qaim Ali Shah ordered schools and public offices closed until the heatwave ends in a bid to encourage residents to stay indoors.
Many of the victims have been labourers who worked outdoors.
Meteorologist Abdur Rauf called the heatwave the worst in at least a decade to strike Pakistan. He said expected monsoon rains in the coming days would probably bring some relief.
“Due to a low depression developing in the Arabian Sea, thunderstorms will likely begin this evening and might continue for the next three days,” a meteorological official said yesterday.
The human body’s normal core temperature is 37-38C. If it heats up to 39-40C, the brain tells the muscles to slow down and fatigue sets in. At 40-41C, heat exhaustion is likely – and above 41C, the body starts to shut down.
Karachi saw a record temperature of 47C in 1979.
Last month, a heatwave in neighbouring India killed almost 1,700 people.