Thousands evacuated from India’s west coast as cyclone nears Gujarat

Published May 17, 2021
Police personnel clear fallen trees from a road following severe cyclonic storm 'Tauktae', at Panjim in Goa on May 16. — AFP
Police personnel clear fallen trees from a road following severe cyclonic storm 'Tauktae', at Panjim in Goa on May 16. — AFP

AHMEDABAD: India is evacuating thousands of people from low-lying areas along its western coast as a powerful cyclone that has killed at least six people is expected to make landfall on Tuesday morning in the state of Gujarat.

Cyclone Tauktae, which formed in the Arabian sea, has already brought lashing rain and winds that damaged houses and uprooted trees to parts of western and southern India.

“It is very likely to intensify further during the 24 hours, and move north-northwestwards and reach Gujarat coast in the evening of 17th (May),” the India Meteorological Department said in a statement.

The cyclone is expected to cross Gujarat with wind gusts of up to 175 kmph (109 mph).

Nearly 150,000 people will be moved from villages and low-lying areas near the coast and directions have been issued to complete the evacuation process by Sunday evening, the Gujarat government said in a statement.

As the cyclone has moved north at least six people have been killed in the western states of Goa and Karnataka, according to officials and statements.

Further south, 31 boats registered with the state of Tamil Nadu were missing, a coastguard official said.

The meteorological agency also warned that there could be flooding of escape routes. Disruption to railway services was also expected until May 21.

The National Crisis Management Committee also chaired a meeting with different states on Sunday and said that nearly 80 disaster management teams have been deployed in different states.

Rescue and relief teams from the army, navy and coastguard, along with ships and aircraft, have also been deployed.

“All measures being taken to evacuate people in the areas affected by the cyclone so as to ensure zero loss of life,” the government said in a statement.

In Gujarat, the cyclone will also pose challenges for the state-administration that is dealing with a high case load of Covid-19 patients.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has asked officials to ensure that electricity supplies to Covid-19 hospitals and other medical facilities are not disrupted and the supply of oxygen is maintained, the state government said. Vaccinations have also been suspended for the next two days.

In the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, the government has moved Covid-19 patients admitted to makeshift centres in the state capital, Mumbai, to other hospitals as the cyclone advances towards Gujarat, the chief minister’s office said.

Gujarat is also home to large refineries and ports that may end up in the storm’s path.

All necessary precautions were being taken at the Jamnagar refinery, the world’s biggest oil refinery complex, owned by Reliance Industries, a company spokesperson said.

Operations at Mundra port, India’s largest private port, in Gujarat were continuing normally, two officials at the port said 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 steps had 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,” S. K. Mehta, chairman of Kandla Port, said.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021

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