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    Toxic smog cloaks New Delhi morning after Diwali festivities

    NEW DELHI — Toxic smog shrouded the Indian capital as air quality plummeted to hazardous levels Thursday after tens of thousands of people set off a multitude of firecrackers to celebrate the major Hindu festival of Diwali.

    With schools closed for holidays, many young children stayed indoors to escape the pollution levels in New Delhi, which shot up to 681, as reported by the US Embassy Thursday morning, from 200 a day earlier. That measurement of small particulate matter in the air is 20 times higher than what is considered safe by the World Health Organization and could seriously aggravate those with heart or lung diseases.

    The government blamed the toxic stew on a combination of burning of stubble in agricultural fields and firecrackers. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology said an increasing surface wind speed is expected to disperse pollutants in two to three days.

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    Many revelers flouted the Supreme Court order that firecrackers could be exploded only between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Wednesday.

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    Authorities this week tried to reduce dust by sprinkling water in many neighborhoods.

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