A major typhoon fanning fierce winds and threatening a devastating storm has made landfall in western India, disrupting the country’s response to the devastating Covid-19 outbreak.
At least 12 people died over the weekend and today due to torrential rains and winds as Cyclone Taukti, according to press reports, the largest cyclone to hit western India in 30 years, the Arabian Sea with Gujarat in sight.
The Indian Meteorological Department wrote on Twitter, “The Taukta (extremely dangerous storm) is located near the coast of Gujarat. The landing process has started and will continue for the next two hours.”
The Met Office added that the cyclone system fills winds of 155 to 165 kilometers per hour, with gusts of up to 185 kilometers per hour.
He warned of storms up to four meters high in some coastal areas of Gujarat.
The massive swirling system visible from space has exacerbated the beleaguered India’s response to the massive coronavirus boom that kills at least 4,000 people every day and pushes hospitals to breaking point.
In windy and wet Mumbai, where authorities closed the airport and urged people to stay home, authorities transported 580 Covid patients “to safer locations” from three field hospitals.
The Prime Minister’s Office said six people were killed and nine injured when the storm swept through Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defense added that two navy ships had been deployed to assist in search and rescue operations for a barge carrying 273 people “without aim” off the coast of Mumbai.
Transfer of Covid patients
About 150,000 people have been evacuated in the neighboring state of Gujarat, with all Covid-19 patients also being transferred to hospitals located 5 kilometers off the coast.
The authorities were there scrambling to ensure uninterrupted power cuts in nearly 400 hospitals designated for COVID-19 and 41 oxygen stations in 12 coastal areas, where the cyclone was expected to be the most damaging.
Prime Minister Vijay Rubani told reporters that more than a thousand Covid hospitals in coastal cities have been provided with generators and energy support, with 744 health teams deployed along with 174 intensive care units on wheels and 600 ambulances.
“Besides the daily requirement of 1000 tons of oxygen in Gujarat every day, an additional stock of 1700 tons has been secured and can be used in the event of an emergency,” Roubani said.
Officials added that virus safety protocols such as wearing masks, social distancing and using disinfectants will be observed in the shelters of the evacuees.
The state also suspended vaccinations for two days. Mumbai did the same for a day.
Thousands of disaster response personnel have been deployed, while units of the Coast Guard, Navy, Army and Air Force have been put on standby.
Maharashtra evacuated about 12,500 people from coastal areas.
On Saturday, four people died from rain and winds in Karnataka state, while two were killed in Goa when winds hit power supplies and uprooted trees.
SM Pandikar, dean of the Goa Medical College Hospital, said one of the COVID-19 wards had experienced slight flooding.
“But there is no need to transport patients,” he said, adding that state hospitals were not affected by the power outages due to the presence of backup generators.
Local media said two others were killed and 23 fishermen are feared missing in Kerala state.
‘Awesome double whammy’
The vast country of 1.3 billion people today reported 4,100 deaths and 280,000 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to nearly 25 million – double since April 1.
“This cyclone is a terrible double blow to millions of people in India whose families have been affected by a record number of injuries and deaths caused by the Covid virus,” said Udaya Rijmi of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The organization said it is helping authorities evacuate people most at risk in coastal areas, providing first aid and masks, and “encouraging other preventive measures against Covid-19”.
Last May, more than 110 people were killed after Cyclone Amfan devastated eastern India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
Roxy Matthew Cole of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology said that the Arabian Sea had previously seen less intense hurricanes than the Bay of Bengal, but that higher water temperatures due to global warming were changing that.
“(The Arabian Sea) is one of the fastest warming basins across the global oceans,” he said.
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