(C) Reuters. People move a fishing boat to a safer place along the shore ahead of Cyclone Tauktae in Veraval in the western state of Gujarat, India, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave
By Sumit Khanna
Ahmedabad (Reuters) -Indian authorities on Monday moved over 200,000 people from their homes in the state of Gujarat to safety and shut ports and major airports as the most powerful cyclone in more than two decades roared up the west coast.
Cyclone Tauktae killed at least 16 people and left a trail of destruction as it brushed past the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, the authorities said. It was set to make landfall in Gujarat late on Monday.
“This will be the most severe cyclone to hit Gujarat in at least 20 years. This can be compared with the 1998 cyclone that hit Kandla and inflicted heavy damage,” state revenue secretary Pankaj Kumar told Reuters.
“Heavy rains have started in many places along with strong winds,” Kumar said in a later update on the situation. Electricity pylons and trees were uprooted and buildings damaged in coastal areas of Gujarat, state authorities said.
The 1998 cyclone killed at least 4,000 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in Gujarat. The latest cyclone piles pressure on Indian authorities already struggling with a high caseload of COVID-19 infections.
“This cyclone is a terrible double blow for millions of people in India whose families have been struck down by record COVID infections and deaths. Many families are barely staying afloat,” said Udaya Regmi, South Asia head of Delegation, International Federation of Red Cross, in a statement.
Earlier on Monday India reported 281,386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours..
Regmi said the Indian Red Cross Emergency team was working with authorities and aiding evacuations in the face of what he called a “monster storm”.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) categorized the storm, which formed in the Arabian Sea, as an “extremely severe” storm, upgrading it from “very severe”.
The cyclone lashed India’s financial hub of Mumbai, forcing authorities to suspend operations at the city’s airport and to close some main roads due to flooding. Tracks on Mumbai’s urban rail system, one of the world’s busiest, were also flooded.
Two barges with over 400 people on board were adrift near the Mumbai coastline and vessels were sent to provide help, said the local branch of India’s defence ministry.
The cyclone brought gusts of up to 210 kmph that would put it on par with a Category 3 hurricane, one level below the IMD’s super cyclone category.
As well as the 16 deaths reported in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, over 25 fishing boats were missing, a coastguard official told Reuters.
The Gujarat Maritime Board, the state’s port regulator, directed hoisting of signals VIII to X, indicating great danger, at ports in the state. India’s largest private port at Mundra suspended operations for the day.
Authorities also fretted about the state’s Asiatic lions, an endangered species found only in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat where the cyclone is expected to inflict most damage.
“There are around 40 lions in some patches in coastal Saurashtra, and we are monitoring them. Some lions have already moved to higher grounds. We are keeping fingers crossed, and praying the lions will be safe,” Shyamal Tikadar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Gujarat, told Reuters.
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said all measures were being taken to deal with the situation.
“These are special circumstances. The administration is busy with the COVID-19 challenges, and is now gearing up to deal with the impact of the cyclone,” said Rupani.
Gujarat and Mumbai both suspended their vaccination drives on Monday due to the cyclone.
India’s Gujarat state evacuates over 200,000 people as cyclone approaches