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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has declared a state of emergency, with nearly 800 people now having died from a heat wave sweeping Sindh province in the country’s south.

While acknowledging that periods of extreme heat were not uncommon, Farooq Dar of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, based in Islamabad, told TIME that the present heat wave was “unprecedented.” He said, “It has never been this bad.”

Officials placed the total death toll at 782 as of Wednesday morning, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported, with a majority of the deaths occurring in Karachi, the country’s largest city and the provincial capital of Sindh. The number of fatalities has been increasing despite a gradual drop in temperatures over the last three days — with 337 reported on Tuesday against 304 and 136 on Monday and Sunday, respectively.

“We are continuously receiving people in a critical condition or dead,” Dr. Seemin Jamali, director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, told Dawn, adding that the hospital has thus far recorded 279 deaths. Morgues in the city are also filled to capacity.

The resumption of southwesterly winds into Karachi and surrounding areas on Tuesday will hopefully contribute to a further lowering of temperatures, Dar told TIME.

“The main cause [of the heat wave] is that the sea breeze was cut off, but the southwesterly wind has been flowing since yesterday afternoon and a bit of cloud cover has also come in. On Monday, the temperature was at 43 [degrees Celsius], Tuesday it went down to 41. Today we’re expecting a further drop of one or two degrees,” he said.

Anger against the provincial and central government at a perceived mismanagement of the crisis shows no sign of abating, however. Multiple daily power outages, preventing people from using fans and air-conditioning, coupled with water shortages during the holy month of Ramadan (or Ramzan), in which Muslims are required to fast until sundown, have seen street protests break out in multiple cities.

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Write to Rishi Iyengar at

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