Western coast on edge as cyclone intensifies

  • At least six people – two in Goa and four in Karnataka – died in rain-related incidents and dozens more were injured on Sunday, state officials said.
NDRF team clears a road blocked by the falling of trees due to strong winds during the formation of cyclone Tauktae, near TB hospital in Panaji.(PTI)
NDRF team clears a road blocked by the falling of trees due to strong winds during the formation of cyclone Tauktae, near TB hospital in Panaji.(PTI)
Published on May 16, 2021 11:53 PM IST
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By, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Panaji

Heavy rain, high tidal waves and winds gusting up to 140-165 kmph swept past India’s western coast as the severe cyclonic storm Tauktae hurled towards Gujarat’s coast, gaining intensity and causing extensive damage in coastal areas of three other states on its way.

At least six people – two in Goa and four in Karnataka – died in rain-related incidents and dozens more were injured on Sunday, state officials said.

Hundreds of houses were damaged due to rain and water-logging, trees uprooted and electricity supply disrupted in parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa – which bore the brunt of the storm’s intensity on Sunday. Maharashtra and Gujarat, next in the storm’s path, also stepped up efforts to prepare for possible impact.

“Tauktae will intensify further while on its track and cross the Gujarat coast with a speed of 155 to 165kmph gusting to 185kmph. We are not expecting it to become a super cyclone but it is a big and intense system,” said Sunitha Devi, incharge of cyclones at the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

Hundreds of people were evacuated from coastal regions across the states, which are also burdened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around a hundred teams of the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF), teams of the Indian Army, Navy and Coast Guard along with ships and aircraft have been deployed for rescue and relief operations.

Weather scientists on Sunday warned that Cyclone Tauktae – which has been categorised as a “very severe” cyclonic storm – is gaining intensity and is likely to make landfall on Gujarat’s coast with wind speeds up to 155-185kmph by Tuesday afternoon.

According to IMD, large-scale destruction is expected over Porbandar, Amreli, Junagarh, Gir, Somnath, Botad, Bhavnagar and coastal areas of Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

The cyclone, which began as a low pressure area over Lakshadweep and southeast Arabian sea earlier, turned into a depression and evolved into a cyclone moving towards the north on Saturday. “Tauktae intensified by 65kmph in the last 24 hours, fuelled by heat and energy from the ocean,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said on Sunday.

Union home minister Amit Shah on Sunday held a meeting with chief ministers of Gujarat, Maharashtra and the administrator of Daman and Diu, and Dadra Nagar Haveli to review preparedness before the cyclone makes its presence felt higher up along the western coast.

At the meeting, Shah directed the state governments to ensure there is adequate power back-up in all facilities that are dealing with Covid-19 patients. The minister also asked the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments to keep a plan ready for buffer stock of medical-grade oxygen for at least two days in case of any disruption in supply.

“A 24x7 control room is functioning in MHA, which can be contacted at any time for any assistance by the States. Indian Coast Guard, the Navy, Army and Air Force units have also been put on standby and surveillance aircraft and helicopters are carrying out aerial sorties,” Shah said, according to a statement.

Four deaths were reported from Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga districts in cyclone-related incidents on Saturday.

In Kerala, where thunderstorms began on Friday night, there was widespread water-logging and the state government sounded an alert after water levels rose in several dams across the state.

Strong winds and heavy rain lashed parts of Goa on Sunday morning, killing two people in related accidents along with snapping electricity supply and uprooting trees.

“Two people lost their lives – a woman, in her 30s, died after a coconut tree fell on her in north Goa’s Mapusa and a scooter passenger in Marcel (also in north Goa) succumbed to injuries after being hit by an electric pole,” chief minister Pramod Sawant said at a press briefing in Panaji on Sunday.

Power supply in a majority of areas in Goa was disrupted as hundreds of electric poles were uprooted due to the high-speed winds, state power minister Nilesh Cabral told PTI.

“Many high tension 33 KV feeders are down due to the falling of trees. Even the 220 KV lines bringing power to Goa from neighbouring Maharashtra have been damaged,” he said.

“Our force has been working since last night to clear the roads and remove trees which have fallen on the power lines,” said Ashok Menon, director of the fire and emergency services in the state.

In Karnataka, more than 98 villages in seven districts -- including Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu and Hassan – reported widespread damage after heavy rains, State Disaster Management Authority officials said.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday sounded an alert for Mumbai and the four coastal districts of Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. The authorities also said that the people living near the coast were shifted to temporary relief shelters.

In Gujarat, where the cyclone is now heading, the government mobilised the authorities on Sunday to shift around 150,000 people out of low-lying areas and deployed over 50 NDRF and SDRF teams. “With the cyclone likely to affect power supply, hospitals treating Covid-19 patients have been asked to ensure power back-up. Arrangements have also been made to ensure uninterrupted generation of medical oxygen in the eight manufacturing units and buffer stock is also created,” chief minister Vijay Rupani told reporters in Gandhinagar.

Maharashtra CM Thackeray assured the Union home minister at the meeting on Sunday that measures to ensure Covid-19 patients are not affected by the cyclone had been put in place.

However, the cyclone appears to have hit the vaccination drive across the affected states. Officials in Karnataka, Gujarat and Goa said vaccinations against Covid-19 were suspended in multiple areas on Sunday.

Experts have warned that natural disasters the world over are becoming more frequent and deadlier as a by-product of global warming.

“With cyclone Tauktae, this will be the fourth consecutive year of pre-monsoon cyclone over the Arabian Sea. This is also the third consecutive year when a cyclone has come very close to the west coast of India. Sea Surface Temperatures in Arabian sea have increased rapidly during the past century and this has led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones in the Arabian Sea…global warming has presented us with new challenges such as rapid intensification of cyclones, which need to be closely monitored at higher resolution and accuracy using on-site platforms such as buoys and moorings. Improving the Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) and incorporating the global warming signals in the weather models can help us tackle the challenges of intense cyclones in the future,” Koll said on Sunday.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022