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Cyclone Nisarga batters coast in Raigad; four dead, eight hurt

By Badri Chatterjee, Tanushree Venkatraman and Surendra P Gangan, Alibag/mumbai
UPDATED ON JUN 04, 2020 12:37 AM IST

Nisarga, classified as a severe cyclone, killed four people and left a trail of destruction — damaged power-supply lines, roads, houses and trees — with winds gusting up to 100-110kmph across Maharashtra’s coastal districts, mainly Raigad, where it made landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

A 58-year-old man died after an electric pole fell on him in Alibag and a tree crushed a 10-year-old boy in Srivardhan, while eight people were injured in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, state officials confirmed, as the cyclone battered not only coastal areas, but even inland tehsils.

Later in the evening, officials confirmed the deaths of a 65-year-old woman and a 52-year-old man after the tin sheets over their roofs were blown in separate incidents in Pune district.

Across coastal Maharashtra, including in Mumbai, 85,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Maharashtra’s seven coastal districts — Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Raigad, Thane, Mumbai City, Mumbai Suburban and Palghar district will continue to remain on alert till Thursday morning. According to a press statement issued by the state government, the cyclone is near Pune after moving on via Alibag-Mumbai-Thane and is weakening rapidly. “With further deep depression, moderate rainfall in Pune and Nashik districts is expected,” it stated.

Cyclone Nisarga made landfall between Srivardhan and Murud areas, south of Alibag tehsil — around 9 nautical miles or 90 km by road from Mumbai — between 12.15pm and 12.30pm on Wednesday, said Nidhi Choudhari, district collector, Raigad, after assessing the preliminary extent of damage with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on Wednesday evening. The high intensity of the cyclone was felt most for three hours between 12.30pm and 3.30pm, although it completed landfall within two hours (12.30pm to 2.30 pm).

While the India Meteorological Department (IMD) rain data for Alibag between 8.30am and 3.30pm was 51.2 mm, the district administration ‘s data showed 84.3mm rain between 8.30am and 5.30 pm for Alibag, while Ratnagiri, south of the landfall site, recorded 45mm during the same period.

Besides the evacuation of 50,000 people in Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban districts, 34,933 were relocated in the five remaining districts — 15,080 in Palghar; 13, 245 in Raigad; 1,387 in Thane; 5,156 in Ratnagiri and 65 in Sindhudurg .

Private met forecaster Skymet Weather said it was a close shave for Mumbai. “Our observation is that the impact on Mumbai was less because the landfall location was shifted somewhat south of Alibag. There was only light to moderate rains in Mumbai during and immediately after landfall,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president, climate and meteorology at Skymet Weather.

The Raigad district administration estimated at least 10,000 tree-fall incidents across affected areas. Power utilities were shut down through most of the district, while structures with tin roofs blown away by high-speed winds were a common sight across all affected areas. Chaudhari said 58-year old Dasharath Waghmare died after an electric pole fell on him at Umte village in Alibag, while a 10-year boy died after a tree fell on him.

Uday Samant, guardian minister, Ratnagiri, said: “Four people, including a woman, were injured in two villages in Ratnagiri district. There are reports of huge damages to houses and structures in a few tehsils, including Mandangad and Dapoli, due to the gusty winds. I have asked the district collector to assess the losses in the next two days and compensate them accordingly,” he said.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his deputy Ajit Pawar reviewed the situation in the morning with district collectors and the divisional commissioner. Thackeray directed the administration to launch rescue operations and survey the losses. Thackeray later thanked the people of Maharashtra and the state authorities in unitedly facing the crisis. “Even as Maharashtra is battling the Covid-19 crisis, the cyclone stormed its coastal part. The state stood unitedly and successfully to face this challenge. I am sure this unity will help us tide over the Covid-19 crisis too,” he said.

Kishorraje Nimbalkar, secretary, relief and rehabilitation, said, “The alert will stay. There has been considerable damage to properties in Raigad district, compared to the other districts.”

“The entire district is cyclone hit as it struck us exactly at Diveagar, and later moved towards Alibag and Pen tehsils. The impact was felt as far as Margaon, Khopoli and Karjat (inland tehsils) where tree and electric lines were badly damaged,” said Chaudhari. “Estimated number of tree falls across Raigad is currently over 10,000 trees as per our preliminary assessment, with Roha, Revdanda and Srivardhan being worst affected. Around 15 trees were badly damaged at my office and residence.”

The IMD said the maximum wind speed when the severe cyclone made landfall was 100-120 kmph along the district. Mrutunjay Mohapatra, director-general, IMD, said Raigad was the worst-affected district with maximum impact. “Alibag witnessed 100kmph, while Mumbai (Colaba) and Ratnagiri reported 72kmph and 65kmph,” he said. Mohapatra added that storm surge was also highest for Raigad district with levels ranging between 1.8m to 2m. Maximum storm surge was seen at Alibag and Murud in terms of storm surge and wind speed. Areas like Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri and Palghar witnessed storm surge of 0.8 to 1m.

“The severe cyclone has weakened into a cyclonic storm and is expected to further decrease into a deep depression by Wednesday night as it moves its course towards north Maharashtra,” said Mohapatra. “This is the first time in history that IMD had issued a cyclone watch for Maharashtra and Gujarat after a low pressure area had formed in the Arabian Sea as early as March 31. This is not done usually throughout the globe, but we gave both governments enough time to take up management,” added Mohapatra.

Meanwhile, NDRF officials said every one kilometre distance in Alibag witnessed two cases of tree fall. “Not only in Alibag, but a similar assessment is being seen across all affected coastal districts. We have identified exact locations where fallen trees are being removed and roads are being connected again. A similar exercise is being done for electric poles. However, the entire restoration process will take at least three days,” said Mahesh Kumar, inspector (in-charge of Alibag), NDRF.

While NDRF teams began efforts to remove tree branches and barks fallen on major roads across affected tehsils, district officials were directed to finalise further reports of devastation witnessed in Raigad by the end of the day, and simultaneously tend to damaged infrastructure such as roads and communication lines. “Our appeal to all citizens is that they must not venture out even if the wind speed and rains have calmed. They must not leave their homes, while we carry out rescue relief operations through the night so that there is no loss of human life,” said Choudhari.

Raigad district information officer Manoj Sanap said, “We have already cleared fallen trees and power lines along major highways such as Alibag-Pen, Alibag-Revas, Goa Highway up to Sukeli, and Murud to Majgaon.”

Mobile services were affected in many tehsils in the coastal districts. Tidal waves measuring up to 6-8 feet lashed parts of coastal areas in Ratnagiri and Raigad districts. Tin roofs of the houses and erected on the terraces of residential, commercial structures flew away in some places in Raigad, Ratnagiri and Palghar districts.

Power supply was severely affected in parts of Maharashtra owing to the collapse of electric poles and damage of power lines. According to the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL), 2,68,000 consumers were affected owing to power cuts in eight different talukas. However, Mumbai largely remained unaffected. MSEDCL is yet to estimate its losses, but officials said that it is expected to be a huge financial burden. District officials in Palghar, Ratnagiri and Thane also ordered forced shutdown of transformers to prevent mishaps.

NDRF Maharashtra commandant Anupam Srivastava said that no major flooding was reported in the coastal districts. Owing to gusty winds, lot of trees got uprooted due to which roads were blocked in and around some areas of Alibag. “Houses with tin and thatched roofs suffered major damage,” he said. As of Wednesday, he said NDRF will be stationed in Raigad for five days, but will be relieved from other districts in the next two-three days. A total of 20 teams have been stationed across the seven districts since Tuesday.

In view of the extensive damage caused in Raigad, two more teams of NDRF will be deployed in the district. One team each from Mumbai and Thane will be shifted to Raigad for relief measures, said Sachidanand Gawde, second in-command, NDRF, Pune.

Food and civil supply minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is also guardian minister of Nashik, took review of the preparations in district and in North Maharashtra. He directed the administration for the timely evacuation of the people to avoid any losses.

Nisarga’s eye (region of calm at the centre of a cyclonic storm) was about 80km in diameter and the size of the cyclone was about 500km as captured by radar, encompassing neighbouring Mumbai and Thane districts, according to IMD.

“The cyclone track has been the same as forecast by us. It made landfall south of Alibag. The cyclone’s eye diameter was 80 km—centre of the eye crossed south of Alibag in Raigad but rest of eye crossed neighbouring districts. Of course it passed over Mumbai. We never said that Nisarga will hit Mumbai directly, but Mumbai has been impacted by the severe cyclone,” said M Mohapatra.

A ship carrying diesel was stranded near Mirya port in Ratnagiri. “The ship was anchored near Pandhara Samudra, when it received the cyclone alert two days ago. It was stranded as the anchor rope detached and later drifted to the shore because of formation of a huge wave. Thirteen sailors, including three foreigners, have been rescued safely. They will be tested for Covid-19 and quarantined for 14 days. The ship is damaged and expected to remain anchored for at least one month,” Samant said.

Ahead of Wednesday’s landfall, a total of 4,407 people had been relocated from the coastal resort town of Alibag.

However, a survey of coastal villages by HT’s reporter showed that many people had still not left their homes despite a warning by district authorities. HT spoke to residents of three fishing villages, Siddharth Nagar, Shastri Nagar and Alibag Koliwada, who were still at home on Wednesday morning. Local police was spotted going door-to-door, telling people to evacuate as rain and wind speed intensified marginally around 9.30 am.

Meanwhile, Sunita Devi, in-charge of cyclones at IMD, said, “Unlike Amphan this cyclone didn’t intensify rapidly, while in the ocean, but intensified very quickly when it was only 250 km from the Maharashtra coast as winds picked by 20 to 40kmph early morning on Wednesday and made landfall as a severe cyclonic storm”.

“Intensification from a tropical cyclone to a category 1 cyclone in case of Nisarga happened in about 12 hours near the coast,” said Mathew Roxy Koll, climate scientist at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. His team said that this was the first time after 1998 that a severe cyclonic storm crossed the west coast. The 1998 cyclone had made landfall in Gujarat’s Kandla and killed thousands of people, but didn’t impact Mumbai.

It is very unusual for a cyclone to make landfall in or near Mumbai or even on the Maharashtra coast. The storms that form during monsoon onset over Arabian Sea usually move towards Oman. Cyclone Phyan, of a much lower intensity had last impacted these districts in 2009 and even Mumbai had recorded extremely heavy rains. The upper level winds steered Nisarga towards Maharashtra coast.

According to IMD, landfall is the event of a tropical cyclone coming onto land after being over water.

(with inputs from Jayashree Nandi)

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