Extremely severe Tauktae lashes India's western coast
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated on Monday, with electricity supply and transport services badly hit as the most powerful Arabian Sea cyclone in over two decades barrelled up the country’s western coast, making landfall in Gujarat after leaving a trail of destruction in Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, and killing at least a dozen people.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) labelled the storm as “extremely severe”, upgrading it from “very severe” earlier. The cyclone battered Mumbai with wind speeds of up to 114 kmph, causing the suspension of operations at the financial hub’s airport and flooding in many parts of the city. Electricity poles and trees were uprooted and buildings damaged in many coastal areas across states.
The cyclone’s landfall began around 8.30pm, IMD said, with the outer cloud band of Tauktae lying over Saurashtra at around 9pm. The landfall process was to take about four hours, scientists said late on Monday.
“On Monday morning, it intensified to an extremely severe cyclonic storm, but it weakened marginally during landfall,” said Sunitha Devi, in charge, cyclones, IMD.
The maximum wind intensity at the eye of the storm at the time of the landfall was 160-170kmph, gusting to 190kmph. The system was crossing the Gujarat coast between Porbandar and Mahuva (Bhavnagar district), east of Diu, with a maximum wind speed of 155-165 kmph, gusting to 185kmph.
Cyclones are low-pressure systems that form over warm tropical waters, with gale-force winds near the centre. The winds can extend hundreds of kilometres from the eye of the storm, sucking up water and later producing heavy rainfall. The latest cyclone to hit India has been given the name “Tauktae” (pronounced Tau’te) by Myanmar; it means “gecko” in the Burmese language.
Heavy rainfall and high-speed winds lashed Mumbai and its adjoining districts as the cyclone moved up the western coast during the day. According to an official, six people were killed in Maharashtra’s Konkan region in separate incidents related to the severe cyclonic storm and three sailors remained missing after two boats sank in the sea.
Rain from the storm earlier killed six people in Kerala, Karnataka and Goa states over the weekend.
As Mumbai and other coastal areas continued to be battered with heavy rain, over 12,000 people were relocated to safer places from the coastal areas in Maharashtra.
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Experts said IMD couldn’t accurately forecast the intensity of the weather system. Reacting to the criticism, M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences, said: “In recent years, we are seeing very intense cyclones form over Arabian Sea; they also intensify rapidly which is what we call rapid intensification in scientific terms. It happens because ocean heat content is higher and sea surface temperatures are also higher. It’s being seen over the Atlantic and Pacific also.”
The latest cyclone also put pressure on the authorities already struggling with a high caseload of Covid-19 infections. At least 17 Covid-19 patients on ventilator support in the Porbandar Civil Hospital’s ICU were shifted to other facilities on Monday as a precautionary measure because of the cyclone.
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said all measures were being taken to deal with the situation. “These are special circumstances. The administration is busy with the Covid-19 challenges, and is now gearing up to deal with the impact of the cyclone,” said Rupani.
A 1998 cyclone killed at least 4,000 people and caused heavy monetary loss in Gujarat. The scale of the damage from the latest cyclone in the state wasn’t immediately clear as the landfall process was still ongoing at the time of going to press.
The cyclone earlier forced the evacuation of over 150,000 people in Gujarat alone and left two barges with 410 people on board adrift in the Arabian Sea.
The Centre offered all help to Gujarat to deal with the cyclone and asked the army, navy and the air force to remain on standby to assist the administration if the need arises, the Gujarat government said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah were in touch with the state government and extended all possible help, said Rupani.
Gujarat and Mumbai both suspended their vaccination drives on Monday due to the storm.
Vineet Kumar, researcher on cyclones at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, tweeted: “For the first time after 1976 and only second time since 1900 a cyclone which formed in May is going to hit Gujarat coast with wind speed greater than 35 knots (65 kmph) as per IMD cyclone e-Atlas.” He also tweeted that Tauktae, with a wind speed of 120 knots (222 kmph), was the strongest pre-monsoon Arabian Sea cyclone after 2010 and the third most intense pre-monsoon Arabian Sea cyclone in the satellite era (1982 onwards), as per the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
OP Sreejith, Scientist E and head, Climate Monitoring and Prediction Group (CMPG), IMD Pune, said: “The 1998 Gujarat cyclone which hit Kandla was of a similar intensity. The main reason for Tauktae’s sudden intensification is high surface temperatures in the Arabian Sea.”
The National Disaster Response Force said it evacuated thousands of stranded people in the last three days in Gujarat, Kerala and Daman and Diu in view of the cyclone.
“Teams are continuously cutting and clearing heavy trees and electric poles that have been uprooted and crashed on roads. Extensive efforts are being made to bring the situation to normal in the affected states,” NDRF said.
It added that the headquarters of the force was closely monitoring the situation through its control room and was in close touch with state authorities to tackle this “big challenge” which came when the Covid-19 pandemic was raging.
(With inputs from agencies)