Coronavirus patients were among more than 100,000 people evacuated from low-lying coastal areas in India’s western states as Cyclone Nisarga advanced toward Mumbai in Maharashtra on Wednesday.
India’s financial center avoided the worst of Cyclone Nisarga, made landfall at around 1 p.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET) with wind speeds of up to 110 kph (68 mph), according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). The cyclone, which formed in the Arabian sea on Tuesday morning, hit Alibag town, south of Mumbai.
Cyclones in that part of the country are relatively rare — Mumbai, India’s financial center and home to 18 million people, was last hit by a major storm in 1948. The arrival of Cyclone Nisarga on Wednesday comes as Maharashtra grapples with India’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
Hospitals are struggling to treat an influx of patients as the confirmed number of cases in that state passes 72,300, with more than 2,400 deaths. Ahead of landfall, the cyclone strengthened to the equivalent of just below a Category 1 Atlantic hurricane, or a Severe Cyclonic Storm in the West Pacific.
The states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu along India’s west coast are likely to be the most impacted by the storm. The biggest threat will come from intense rainfall that could lead to deadly flooding in and around Mumbai and surrounding areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Storm surges of approximately one to two meters (3.3 to 6.6 foot) are likely to inundate low-lying areas of Mumbai, Thane and Raigad districts, the IMD said.
Evacuating coronavirus patients
As Maharashtra struggles to contain the virus, about 1,000 patients with suspected Covid-19 were evacuated from a field hospital on Tuesday and taken to other facilities. The Maharashtra government has set up several “jumbo facilities” to act as isolation centers for suspected coronavirus cases.
“The sheds can easily withstand the rain but it is the wind speed that I am worried about and I don’t want to endanger anyone,” Uddhav Thackeray, the chief minister of the state said in an address on Tuesday. The field hospital in Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai has capacity for over 1,000 patients, all of whom are being shifted to other hospitals, he added.
Ahead of landfall, India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) deployed 20 teams in Maharashtra, 16 teams in Gujarat, and two teams in other nearby areas. Thousands of people living in flimsy or makeshift homes along the low-lying coast have been evacuated, according to a statement from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.
More than 50,000 people living along the coast of southern Gujarat have been evacuated, Harshad Patel, Gujarat’s Relief Commissioner said. In Mumbai, the state authorities along with NDRF have evacuated more than 60,000 people from coastal districts, according to Kishor Raje Nimbalkar, Relief Commissioner of Maharashtra.
The IMD is expecting major damage to thatched houses and huts, as well as to power and communication lines. Mumbai’s civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said 35 schools are being used as temporary evacuation shelters for citizens. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged residents in affected areas to take all possible precautions.
“Took stock of the situation in the wake of cyclone conditions in parts of India’s western coast. Praying for everyone’s well-being. I urge people to take all possible precautions and safety measures,” Modi said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Tropical Cyclone Nisarga comes two weeks after powerful Cyclone Amphan slammed into India’s eastern coast, killing at least 90 people in India and neighboring Bangladesh, leaving millions without power, and causing more than $13.2 billion dollars in damage.