India braces for powerful cyclone amid virus surge

Cyclone Tauktae, which has already killed six people in parts of southern India.

The cyclone seen via satellite
The cyclone seen via satellite

A powerful cyclone is moving towards India’s western coast as authorities attempt to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

Cyclone Tauktae, which has already killed six people in parts of southern India, is expected to make landfall on Monday evening in Gujarat state with winds of up to 109mph, the India Meteorological Department said.

Forecasters warned of possible extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas.

Indian Air Force
An Indian Air Force plane preparing to transport National Disaster Response Force personnel and material to western Gujarat state (Indian defence ministry/AP)

The massive storm comes as India is battling with a devastating coronavirus surge. 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.

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.

Police take shelter
Policemen enforcing a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus stand beneath a rain shelter in Kochi, Kerala state (AP)

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 harbours 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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