21 dead, many missing as Cyclone Tauktae batters COVID-hit India
At least 21 people have been killed and nearly 100 others missing after a monster cyclone slammed into western India, compounding the misery for millions of others who are enduring a devastating coronavirus surge. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power after Cyclone Tauktae, one of a growing number of increasingly severe storms in the Arabian Sea blamed on climate change, hammered the Gujarat coast on Monday evening, 17 May 2021. The cyclone packed gusts of up to 185 kilometres per hour, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines and mobile phone towers as it barrelled inland while weakening slightly. One support vessel owned by owned by India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) serving oil rigs that were hit by immense waves off the coast of Mumbai, sank and 96 of the 273 people who had been on board were missing, the Indian Navy said on Tuesday.
The stricken barge was carrying personnel deployed for offshore drilling. When the storm struck, the barge's anchors gave way and it began drifting. The Indian Navy said it has rescued 184 and has mounted a massive air and sea rescue mission for the missing oil workers, which is being hampered by huge waves, "There are waves of 20 to 25 feet (six to 7.6m), the winds are high and the visibility is low," said navy spokesman Vivek Madhwal. "Ships and aircraft have been deployed for the search and rescue mission."
A navy spokesman said it had dispatched three warships to save those aboard the three stranded commercial barges. Two of the barges are off the coast of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state, while the third is off the coast of Gujarat.
ONGC said it had also deployed boats to rescue its personnel.
Thirty five people have also been rescued from another of the three other commercial barges stranded at sea in the wake of Cyclone Tauktae. One of the troubled barges, reportedly carrying cargo, had anchored and was about 14km from Mumbai's coast when it went adrift on Monday. The Navy said the barge had since run aground in a rocky patch of the sea. Everyone on board is reported to be safe.
The third barge, about 92km from the Gujarat coast, is attached to an oil rig. There are reportedly 196 people aboard and another 100 reportedly stuck on the rig.
Rescue teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Indian Army have been sent to severely-hit regions in Gujarat state and the region of Diu.
Rains from the storm also killed six people in Kerala, Karnataka and Goa over the weekend as the cyclone moved along the western coastline. Houses were destroyed and electricity was disrupted across several districts in these states.
What is the impact of the cyclone?
Initially classified as "extremely severe", the cyclone made landfall in Gujarat state late on Monday with wind speeds of up to 160km. It narrowly missed Mumbai but the barges adrift off the city's coast were unable to return to the harbour on time. Tauktae is the strongest cyclone to strike the coast of Gujarat since 1998.
Winds have ravaged coastal areas in the western state of Gujarat, uprooting trees and electricity poles. In Saurashtra district, electricity supply has been cut as a precautionary measure.
About 200 000 people were evacuated across several states as the cyclone approached, bringing with it heavy rains and gusty winds.
The storm has hit the region amid a devastating second wave of COVID-19 that has overwhelmed Indian hospitals.
On Tuesday morning, the (IMD) said in a tweet that the cyclone had further weakened and would continue to weaken gradually in the next three hours. But authorities have asked people to remain cautious as some areas in Gujarat continue to witness strong winds.
Although COVID cases are declining in both states, the devastating effects of India's second wave are still being felt.
More than 200 000 people in low-lying areas were moved to shelters, sparking fears of possible new coronavirus clusters in coming weeks. And the federal government has also ordered the vaccine drive to be halted in several coastal towns believed to be at risk.
The storm is also adding to the challenge facing India's hospitals. Mumbai moved 580 COVID positive patients from dedicated centres to civic hospitals as a precaution.
Source: BBC, Al Jazeera