Feb. 23 (UPI) -- At least 85 people, mostly tea plantation workers, have died and hundreds have been hospitalized after consuming tainted illicit booze on tea estates in India.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam's health minister, confirmed through the WhatsApp messenger application 85 hospital deaths and said the final death toll could be higher if people also died outside the hospital.
Sarma added that another 200 people were hospitalized, many in critical condition.
The incidents happened Thursday night at Halmira Tea Estate in Assam, northeast India in Golaghat and neighboring Jorhat district, about 180 miles from the state capital of Guwahati.
Some people who consumed the brew, a hooch called "sulai," usually made from jaggery and ethyl alcohol, are suffering from vomiting, stomach pains and convulsions.
It is suspected that instead of using ethyl alcohol, the brewers used methyl alcohol, which is poisonous to humans.
Among the dead were Dhrupadi Oran, 65, her son, Sanju Oran, 30, and many tea plantation workers who had just gotten paid. The workers had bought the illicit hooch at the 65-year-old woman's home.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered an investigation into the incidents.
Ratul Bordoloi, a health director in Golaghat, said that the preliminary causes of death seem to be alcohol poisoning.
Less than two weeks earlier, nearly 100 people died of alcohol poisoning in two other states, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, as the death toll rose from at least 77 deaths initially reported. The illicit hooch was tainted with household disinfectants and antifreeze.