Thousands of people from low-lying areas along the western coast are being evacuated to safety as a powerful cyclone is expected to make landfall on Tuesday morning in Gujarat.
Gale-force winds, heavy rainfall and high tidal waves swept the coastal belt of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa as Cyclone Tauktae hurtled northwards towards Gujarat on Sunday, leaving six people dead, damaging hundreds of houses, uprooting electricity poles and trees and forcing evacuation. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Tauktae which has taken the form of a “very severe cyclonic storm" is likely to intensify further during the next 24 hours and reach the Gujarat coast on Monday evening.
Cyclone Tauktae, which formed in the Arabian sea, is expected to cross Gujarat with wind gusts of up to 175 kmph (109 mph) and is expected to intensify further and make landfall in the state on May 17.
Besides the death of four persons in Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga districts, 73 villages were badly damaged on Sunday, according to the state’s southwestern disaster management authority.
The highest rainfall of 385mm was recorded at Nada Station in Kundapura taluk of Udupi district, which was the worst affected, and 15 stations recorded more than 200 mm of rainfall in the district.
The rainfall was accompanied by strong winds with speed reaching up to 90 km/per along. According to the Cyclone Warning Division of the IMD, by May 18 the wind speed is expected to increase to 150-160 km per hour, gusting up to 175 km per hour.
Nearly 2,500 government rescuer workers have been deployed in six states on Cyclone Tauktae’s path Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa equipped with wireless radios, satellite phones, cutters and tools needed for post-cyclone operations.
In Goa, two persons died in separate incidents caused due to gusty winds triggered by the cyclone, which also damaged hundreds of houses and blocked some highways in parts of the state as trees fell at several points.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said the major impact of the cyclonic winds was felt in Bardez taluka in North Goa district and Mormugao in South Goa. “Two persons died in the state due to cyclonic winds on Sunday. One of them is a girl in North Goa, who had gone to fetch water from a well. She died after getting crushed under a tree that fell due to strong winds," he said. In the second incident that occurred in South Goa, a man riding a two-wheeler died after an electricity pole fell on him, he said.
Power supply in a majority of areas of Goa was disrupted as hundreds of electric poles were uprooted due to the high-speed winds. Sawant said there was power disruption for some time at the Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), where COVID-19 patients are undergoing treatment. It could have affected the oxygen supply there, but an oxygen tank installed there on Saturday averted a major tragedy as it ensured uninterrupted supply of the life-saving gas at the facility.
Power Minister Nilesh Cabral said many high tension 33 KV feeders are down due to the falling of trees. “Even the 220 KV lines bringing power to Goa from neighbouring Maharashtra have been damaged," he said. The state Fire and Emergency Services control room was flooded with hundreds of calls from locals about the falling of trees and blocked roads, its director Ashok Menon said. “Our force has been working since last night to clear the roads and remove trees which have fallen on the power lines," Menon said.
The meteorological agency also warned that there could be destruction of houses and flooding of escape routes. Disruption to railway services was also expected until May 21.
Evacuation of people from the coastal areas has started, said Gujarat’s revenue secretary Pankaj Kumar. “We will be evacuating more than 100,000 people."
The IMD has issued orange alerts — a warning indicating heavy to very heavy rain — on Sunday in three Kerala districts — Ernakulam, Idukki and Malappuram. Hundreds of houses were damaged in coastal areas across the state as seawater seeped in following high waves. According to the state government, at least nine districts have been severely affected by sea incursion.
The Thrissur district administration said spillway shutters of the Peringalkuthu dam will be opened if the water level crosses the permitted limit of 419.41m. In a statement, the administration has urged the people living on the banks of Chalakudy river to be cautious. Shutters of Malankara dam in Idukki district will be opened on Sunday, as the water level has increased, the district authorities said.
Families living in coastal areas and low-lying areas of the state have been shifted to relief camps. Indian Navy on Sunday deployed its diving and quick reaction teams in the coastal village of Chellanam in Ernakulam district, which was heavily hit by tidal waves. The teams, braving harsh weather conditions, undertook rescue and rehabilitation of people who were trapped in houses.
High tidal waves have also lashed Kaipamangalam, Chavakkad and Kodungallur in Thrissur, Pallithura in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrikkannapuzha in Alappuzha and Beypore and Koyilandy in Kozhikode districts. The cyclone has added to the woes of the states which are already grappling with the devastating third wave of COVID.
The massive storm will likely hamper India’s fight against pandemic that’s sweeping the country with devastating death tolls, as virus lockdown measures may slow relief work and damage from the storm could potentially destroy roads and cut vital supply lines.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has asked officials to ensure that electricity supply to Covid-19 hospitals and other medical facilities is not disrupted while oxygen supply is maintained, the state government’s statement said. Vaccinations have also been suspended for the next two days.
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba met on Sunday in the national capital, where the top bureaucrat of the country directed agencies to ensure “uninterrupted" functioning of the COVID hospitals in the states affected by Cyclone Tauktae and secure “zero loss" of lives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday reviewed the preparedness of states, central ministries and agencies concerned to deal with the situation arising out of Cyclone Tauktae and asked them to take every possible measure to ensure that people are safely evacuated.
At the high-level meeting which was attended by Home Minister Amit Shah and top officials, Modi directed them to ensure special preparedness on COVID management in hospitals, vaccine cold chain and other medical facilities on power back up and storage of essential medicines and to plan for unhindered movement of oxygen tankers, the PMO said. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said an alert has been sounded in coastal districts of the state and the administration is prepared to ensure uninterrupted electricity and oxygen supply in COVID-19 hospitals.
During a virtual meeting with Shah, Thackeray said jumbo COVID-19 centres and other facilities can protect patients from rain. But, in view of the cyclonic storm, some patientsfrom Mumbai and other areas have been shifted to safer places.
In Maharashtra, the government has moved Covid-19 patients admitted to makeshift centres in Mumbai to other hospitals as the cyclone advances towards Gujarat, the chief minister’s office said. The two states are also home to large refineries and seaports that may end up being in the storm’s path.
All necessary precautions are being taken at the Jamnagar refinery, the world’s biggest oil refinery complex, owned by Reliance Industries, a company spokesperson told Reuters.
Operations at Mundra port, India’s largest private port, in Gujarat are continuing normally, two officials at the port told Reuters on Sunday morning. “We are observing the situation, and will take action accordingly," an official said.
Authorities at Kandla Port, the largest government-run port in the country, said that steps have been taken to evacuate around 5,000 people from low lying areas. “We have already issued an advisory, and have stopped taking any vessels inside. There will be no berthing tomorrow morning, and all vessels will be sent to the high seas," SK Mehta, chairman of Kandla Port, said. JNPT, near Mumbai, has also issued similar directives in view of inclement weather warnings.