A man walks past a fallen tree on a street following heavy rains from Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai. AFP
A powerful cyclone roaring in the Arabian Sea was moving toward India's western coast on Monday as authorities tried to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and suspended COVID-19 vaccinations in one state.
Cyclone Tauktae has killed eight people and left a trail of destruction as it brushed past the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa, authorities said.
Nearly 150,000 people were moved from their homes in the Indian state of Gujarat to safety on Monday and authorities closed ports and a main airport as the most intense cyclone in more than two decades roared up the west coast. It is set to make landfall in Gujarat late on Monday.
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"This will be the most severe cyclone to hit Gujarat in at least 20 years. This can be compared with the 1998 cyclone that hit Kandla and inflicted heavy damage," state revenue secretary Pankaj Kumar told Reuters.
People move a fishing boat to a safer place along the shore ahead of Cyclone Tauktae in Veraval, Gujarat. Reuters
Cyclone Tauktae, which has already killed six people in parts of southern India, was expected to make landfall on Monday evening in Gujarat state with winds of up to 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour, the India Meteorological Department said.
Forecasters warned of possible extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas.
The massive storm comes as India is battling with a devastating coronavirus surge - and both the storm and the virus could exacerbate the effects of the other. The storm has already led to the suspension of some vaccination efforts and there is greater risk of virus transmission in crowded evacuation shelters.
Virus lockdown measures, meanwhile, could slow relief work after the storm, and damage from the storm could destroy roads and cut vital supply lines for vaccines and medical supplies needed for virus patients.
The National Disaster Response Force personnel clear fallen trees from a road in Goa. AFP
In Gujarat, vaccinations were suspended for two days and authorities worked to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to temporary relief shelters. The state’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, asked officials to ensure that oxygen supplies for hospitals are not disrupted.
In Maharashtra, operations at Mumbai city's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport were suspended for five hours.
Fishing boats off the coast in both states returned to their harbors and thousands of rescue and relief teams, along with ships and aircraft, were deployed for recovery operations.
India's western coast is no stranger to devastating cyclones, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense, rather than more frequent.In May 2020, nearly 100 people died after Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm to hit eastern India in more than a decade, ravaged the region and left millions without power.
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