Navy ships work through the night to recover 37 bodies on board barge that sank off Mumbai, but 38 more still missing.
A severe cyclone is brewing off India’s eastern coast, the nation’s weather bureau has warned, as the death toll rose from a huge storm that wreaked havoc in the west of the coronavirus-hit nation last week.
Moving northwards in the Bay of Bengal, the depression was set to form a cyclone – to be dubbed Yaas – before intensifying and hitting the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha on Wednesday, the India Meteorological Department said.
The storm could pack winds of up to 165 kilometres (100 miles) per hour, hitting occasional highs of up to 185km (115 miles) per hour by mid-Wednesday as a “Very Severe Cyclonic Storm”, the third-worst category, the department said on Sunday.
It also warned of storm surges of up to four metres (13 feet) high in coastal areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said he had chaired a meeting on the approaching storm, with the military and disaster teams deployed to help with the preparations and potential rescue operations.
Cyclone Yaas is set to hit soon after Cyclone Tauktae, India’s first big tropical storm this season, which battered the western state of Gujarat last Monday.
The death toll from the storm rose to at least 140 on Sunday, with 70 bodies recovered after the cyclone hit an oil rig off Mumbai and several support vessels, the navy said.
About 600 people were rescued by the navy but five remain missing from an accommodation barge for oil workers that ripped free of its anchors in the storm and sank.
“Search & Rescue ops by ships and helicopters/aircraft will continue in the area to locate the remaining crew of the sunken vessels,” the navy said in a statement on Sunday.
India’s neighbour Bangladesh, which borders West Bengal, said it was monitoring Yaas.
“All the boats and fishing trawlers have been ordered to come close to the coast as a precautionary measure. Tomorrow (Monday) we will have better idea where it is heading,” Bangladesh Meteorological Department senior weather forecaster Bazlur Rashid told the AFP news agency.
Scientists say cyclones in the densely populated region, currently reeling from a deadly wave of COVID-19 infections, are becoming more frequent and stronger as climate change leads to warmer sea temperatures.
Last May, more than 110 people died after “Super Cyclone” Amphan ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without electricity.