Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, a storm with wind speeds equivalent to a high-end Category 3 hurricane formed in the Arabian Sea, landed in Gujarat Monday evening local time. It increased slightly when it hit the western state with maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour, according to the United States’ Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
According to the Indian Meteorological Authority (IMD), it had weakened from an “extremely severe cyclone storm” to a “severe cyclone storm” by Tuesday morning.
Photos and videos show highways turned into rivers by heavy rain and trees and power lines toppled by violent winds. The cyclone killed at least 26 people in the coastal states of Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, according to state authorities.
The deaths were due to drowning at sea, house collapses, lightning strikes and other accidents related to the storm, according to the state disaster control authorities.
Covid patients were among the hundreds of thousands evacuated from lower-lying areas this week as the region prepared for the cyclone’s arrival. In Mumbai, 580 patients were transferred from makeshift care centers to various hospitals on Friday and Saturday, according to city officials.
However, at the time, cases in India were still relatively low, at less than 10,000 a day, and the country had emerged from a strict lockdown.
And the cyclone could only be the harbinger of yet another disaster as India’s month-long monsoon season approaches.
“A terrible double blow”
More than 200,000 people in Gujarat have been evacuated from the coastal areas, state prime minister Vijay Rupani said on Monday. More than 2,435 villages have lost power, although 484 have since restored them.
Storm surges of up to 4 meters could lead to significant flooding on the coast in the region, warned the IMD. Ahmedabad, the most populous city in Gujarat, saw nearly 102mm of rainfall in the next 24 to 48 hours – more than the January-June average.
According to the prime ministers of both states, thousands of people in Kerala and Karnataka are seeking refuge in relief camps where many houses have been damaged by extreme weather.
India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has deployed more than 100 teams in six coastal states to support the local effort. The Indian military was also deployed; On Tuesday, the Navy said it rescued 177 people from a barge that sank in an offshore oil field off the coast of Mumbai.
The cyclone that runs north is also affecting pandemic relief efforts.
Among the 400 Covid-19 hospitals in Gujarat, electricity has been cut to 100, Rupani said on Tuesday. All hospitals have emergency power generators – but these devices failed in four hospitals and left them without power.
Authorities are working to fix the affected generators, Rupani said. Vaccinations have been suspended across Gujarat.
“The big concern was Covid,” he said. “The oxygen we produce has been shipped to our hospitals, but we also need to send oxygen to other states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, etc.”
Oxygen production even runs throughout the cyclone, he said.
“Many families barely stay afloat,” he added.
There has already been a curfew as part of the Covid restrictions in 36 cities in Gujarat. It was supposed to end on Tuesday but has now been extended for three more days because of the cyclone, Rupani said.
The upcoming monsoon season adds another layer of complication. Heavy monsoon rains begin in June each year and continue into early autumn, replenishing the water supplies farmers rely on to feed their crops.
However, the precipitation also repeatedly overwhelms the flood management systems and causes considerable damage in heavily affected areas.
Although this year’s monsoon season isn’t set to start until June 1, it could arrive early due to the landing of cyclone Tauktae and the change in wind, according to CNN meteorologists.