A powerful cyclone has battered India’s west coast and made landfall in Gujarat after authorities evacuated hundreds of thousands of people.
Dubbed an “extremely severe cyclonic storm” by the Indian Meteorological Department, the cyclone, named Tauktae, brought with it wind speeds of 160 to 170 kilometres per hour (99.4 -105.6 miles per hour) with gusts of up to 190 km/h (118 mph), storm surges and heavy rainfall.
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The cyclone destroyed buildings, uprooted trees and electricity pylons, snapped wires and led to waterlogging and floods in Gujarat as well as Maharashtra and the neighbouring territories of Daman and Diu.
The Indian Meteorological Department said it would take up to three hours for the landfall along the Gujarat coast to be completed.
The Indian army and navy were on standby for relief and rescue operations, along with the National Disaster Response Force, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said during a briefing.
Rupani said he was monitoring the situation with top officials. The extent of the damage in the four districts affected would be clear by morning, he said.
Ports and airports in Gujarat were closed and more than 150,000 people evacuated from coastal belts of the Saurashtra and Kutch region to temporary safe shelters.
The international airport in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, was closed through the day. More than 50 flights were cancelled.
National Disaster Response Force teams and regional responders were working around the clock to restore power supplies and remove trees from roads and key transport arteries including highways, along which oxygen supplies for COVID-19 patients are being transported from ports in Gujarat.
Power back-ups like diesel-powered generators had been installed at many hospitals, officials said.
At least 14 people have died so far in incidents related to the storm, six of them in Maharashtra’s Konkan coastal belt, regional officials said. The toll is expected to go up.
Tauktae is named after a particularly loud Burmese gecko. The impact of the cyclone was expected to continue for at least 12 hours after landfall.
The cyclone began forming over the Arabian Sea more than three days ago and has wrought havoc along India’s western coast, in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and finally Gujarat.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from coastal belts in all the states and housed in temporary shelters, despite fears of a further spread of COVID-19 in a country that is reeling from a deadly second wave of the pandemic.
“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,” Udaya Regmi, South Asia head of the delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.
The potential impact of the “monster storm” was frightening, Regmi said.
Emergency response teams of the Indian Red Cross were working with local authorities on evacuation and relief, according to the statement.
India’s western coast is no stranger to devastating cyclones, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense, rather than more frequent.
In May 2020, nearly 100 people died when Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm to hit eastern India in more than a decade, ravaged the region and left millions without power.