A deadly cyclone blasted ashore in western India late Monday with fierce winds and drenching rains that turned streets into rivers, disrupting the country's response to its devastating COVID-19 outbreak.
Cyclone Tauktae, which local press reports called the biggest to hit the area in 30 years, has unleashed heavy weather since the weekend that killed at least 20 people in its approach to land.
It made landfall in Gujarat state just after 8:30 pm local time (1500 GMT) as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm packing winds of 155-165 kilometres (95-100 miles) per hour, gusting up to 185 kph, the Indian Meteorological Department said.
One woman died after high winds knocked over an electricity poll in the city of Patan in northern Gujarat, officials said.
Sea levels swelled as high as three metres (10 feet) along the coast, said local weather officials in the coastal town of Diu, which reported wind speeds of 133 kph.
The colossal swirling system visible from space has exacerbated India's embattled response to a coronavirus surge that is killing at least 4,000 people daily and pushing hospitals to their breaking point.
In waterlogged and windswept Mumbai, where authorities on Monday closed the airport and urged people to stay indoors, authorities shifted 580 COVID-19 patients "to safer locations" from three field hospitals.
Six people died and nine were injured as the storm lashed Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, the chief minister's office said.
|Heavy rains and strong winds lash Mumbai as a major cyclone packing ferocious winds and threatening a destructive storm surge bore down on India. Photo: AFP|
Two navy ships were deployed to assist in search and rescue operations for a barge carrying 273 people "adrift" off Mumbai's coast, with 28 picked up so far, the defence ministry said late Monday.
Seven people died and nearly 1,500 houses were damaged in Kerala state, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted late Monday.
COVID-19 patients evacuated
Around 200,000 people were evacuated in Gujarat, where all COVID-19 patients in hospitals within five kilometres of the coast were also moved.
Authorities there scrambled to ensure there would be no power cuts in the nearly 400 designated COVID-19 hospitals and 41 oxygen plants in 12 coastal districts.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani told reporters that over 1,000 COVID-19 hospitals in coastal towns have been provided with generators and power backups, with 744 health teams deployed along with 174 ICUs on wheels and 600 ambulances.
"Besides the daily requirement of 1,000 tonnes of oxygen in Gujarat per day, an additional stock of 1,700 tonnes has been secured and could be used in case of emergency," Rupani said.
Virus safety protocols such as wearing masks, social distancing and the use of sanitisers would be observed in the shelters for evacuees, officials added.
The state also suspended vaccinations for two days. Mumbai did the same for one day.
|Commuters drive through a waterlogged road amidst heavy rains in Mumbai. Photo: AFP|
Thousands of disaster response personnel have been deployed, while units from the coast guard, navy, army and air force have been placed on standby.
Maharashtra evacuated around 12,500 people from coastal areas.
Four people died on Saturday as rain and winds battered Karnataka state, while two died in Goa as winds hit power supplies and uprooted trees.
'Terrible double blow'
The vast nation of 1.3 billion people on Monday reported 4,100 deaths and 280,000 fresh COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total close to 25 million -- a doubling since April 1.
"This cyclone is a terrible double blow for millions of people in India whose families have been struck down by record COVID-19 infections and deaths," said Udaya Regmi from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The organisation said it was helping authorities to evacuate people most at risk in coastal areas, providing first aid, masks "and encouraging other critical COVID-19 prevention measures".
|This handout satellite image shows Cyclone Tauktae over western India on May 17, 2021. Photo: AFP|
Last May, more than 110 people died after "super cyclone" Amphan ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
The Arabian Sea previously experienced fewer severe cyclones than the Bay of Bengal but rising water temperatures because of global warming was changing that, Roxy Mathew Koll from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology told AFP.
"(The) Arabian Sea is one of the fastest-warming basins across the global oceans," he said.