(AP) – 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, 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 kilometres (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 a 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.
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.
The South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Udaya Regmi, said the cyclone is a “terrible double blow” for families that have already been hit by COVID-19 infections and deaths.
“The potential impacts of Cyclone Tauktae are frightening as this monster storm threatens the state of Gujarat. Every effort must continue to keep people safe from this dangerous storm and the raging pandemic,” Regmi said.
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.