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21 killed, 100 missing as Cyclone Tauktae batters Inida’s Gujarat

GUJARAT, 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.

One support vessel 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 cyclone, at its peak classified as “extremely severe”, made landfall in India’s state of Gujarat with wind speeds of up to 160 kilometre/hour.

Cyclone Tauktae travelled along India’s western coast, narrowly missing the city of Mumbai. At least 12 people were killed and 200,000 evacuated.

The navy has sent three warships to try to rescue hundreds of people stranded off the coast in two barges.

Rain and wind speed of over 100km/h ravaged coastal areas in the western state of Gujarat, uprooting trees and electricity poles. In the Saurashtra district, electricity has been cut as a precautionary measure.

On Tuesday morning, the India Meteorological Department (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.

Late on Monday local time, IMD announced that the “extremely severe cyclonic storm” had begun to make landfall in Gujarat. It took several hours for the eye of the cyclone to come ashore.

Tauktae is the strongest cyclone to strike the region since 1998 and both Gujarat and neighbouring Maharashtra – home to the city of Mumbai – have been on high alert.

Although Covid cases are declining in both states, the devastating effects of India’s second wave are still being felt.

The Indian navy has been taking part in rescue operations to save the people on both of the commercial barges, which are off the coast of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra. There were 400 people on board in total, but 146 have been rescued, the navy said on Tuesday morning.

It said it was responding to two separate requests for help in extremely challenging conditions: one from a barge adrift near an oil field about 170km from the coast, and a second from another vessel about 14km from the coast.

More than 200,000 people in low-lying areas were moved to shelters, sparking fears of possible new coronavirus clusters in the 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 has already moved 580 Covid positive patients from dedicated centres to civic hospitals as a precaution.

Officials have advised people to stay indoors, amid anticipation of flooded roads, damaged power lines and uprooted trees.

Thousands of fishing boats have returned to the harbour, and hundreds of merchant ships have been asked to re-route.

Teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed in both states. Rescue teams of the Indian Army have been sent to severely hit regions in Gujarat state, and the region of Diu.

Rains from the storm killed six people in Kerala, Karnataka and Goa over the weekend as the cyclone moved along the western coastline. Another six were reported killed in Maharashtra state on Monday.

Houses were destroyed and electricity was disrupted across several districts in these states.

The cyclone in the region in 1998 – designated 03A – killed at least 4,000 people, although the toll may have been far higher.