Indian state braces for Tauktae, ‘most severe’ cyclone in decades

Powerful cyclone roaring in Arabian Sea moves towards Gujarat as authorities evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

People move a fishing boat to a safer place along the shore ahead of Cyclone Tauktae in Veraval in the western state of Gujarat [Amit Dave/Reuters]

Nearly 150,000 people have been moved from their homes in the Indian state of Gujarat to safety and authorities have closed ports and a main airport as the most intense cyclone in more than two decades roared up the west coast.

Cyclone Tauktae has killed at least 12 people and left a trail of destruction as it brushed past the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, authorities said. It is 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 news agency.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) categorised the storm, which formed in the Arabian Sea, as an “extremely severe” storm, upgrading it from the “very severe” category.

Passengers walk through a street near a bus terminus amid heavy rains from Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

Forecasters warned of possible extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas.

The financial hub of Mumbai was lashed with heavy rain and strong winds as Cyclone Tauktae headed north. Strong winds forced authorities to suspend operations at Mumbai’s airport, and close some main roads.

The cyclone, with sustained surface wind speeds of 180-190 km/h and gusts up to 210 km/h that would put it on par with a Category 3 hurricane, is rated one level below the IMD’s super cyclone category.

Apart from the 12 deaths reported in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, at least 28 fishing boats were missing, a coastguard official told Reuters.

Storm amid raging pandemic

The cyclone increases pressure on local administrations already struggling with a high caseload of COVID-19 infections.

Women with their children leave their houses and evacuate to a safer place ahead of Cyclone Tauktae in Veraval in the western state of Gujarat [Amit Dave/Reuters]

The storm has already led to the suspension of some vaccination efforts and there is a greater risk of virus transmission in crowded evacuation shelters.

Virus lockdown measures, meanwhile, could slow relief work after the storm, and damage from the storm could destroy roads and cut vital supply lines for vaccines and medical supplies needed for virus patients.

In Gujarat, vaccinations were suspended for two days and authorities worked to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to temporary relief shelters. The state’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, asked officials to ensure that oxygen supplies for hospitals are not disrupted.

“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.

This May 16, 2021 photo provided by India’s defence ministry shows an Indian Air Force plane preparing to transport National Disaster Response Force personnel and materials to Gujarat in preparation for Cyclone Tauktae, from Kolkata [India’s Defence Ministry via AP]

The state administration moved nearly 150,000 people from coastal communities and deployed more than 50 disaster response teams.

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, an official there told Reuters.

Authorities are also concerned about the state’s Asiatic lions, an endangered species found only in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat where the cyclone is expected to inflict maximum 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, Gujarat’s chief conservator of forests, told Reuters.

The 1998 cyclone that ravaged Gujarat killed at least 4,000 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, media reported at the time.

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 after Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm to hit eastern India in more than a decade, ravaged the region and left millions without power.

Source: News Agencies