At least 21 people have been killed and nearly 100 more missing after a monster cyclone hit western India, exacerbating the misery of millions more who are suffering a devastating coronavirus outbreak.
Hundreds of thousands of people were without power after Cyclone Tauktae, one of several increasingly severe storms in the Arabian Sea blamed on climate change, hit the coast of Gujarat on Monday evening.
The cyclone produced gusts of up to 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines and mobile phone towers as it moved inland while weakening slightly.
A support vessel serving oil rigs hit by huge waves off Mumbai sank and 96 of the 273 people on board were missing, the Indian Navy said on Tuesday.
The Defense Ministry said 177 people had been rescued from the ship, with operations set to continue throughout the day in “extremely difficult sea conditions”.
Pavni Mittal of Al Jazeera, who reports from New Delhi, said the colossal cyclone – the largest to hit the region in decades – killed at least 21 as wild winds swept through fragile homes and uprooted people. trees and electricity pylons.
Although the cyclone was one of the fiercest to hit the region, better forecasts than in recent years have allowed for solid preparations and more than 200,000 people living in dangerous areas have been evacuated from their homes.
Mumbai authorities closed the airport for several hours on Monday and urged people to stay indoors as huge waves hit the city’s waterfront.
The deadly weather system has hampered India’s relentless response to a coronavirus outbreak that is killing at least 4,000 people a day and pushing the health system to breaking point.
“Much of the preparation for the cyclone has been done keeping in mind that we are still in the midst of a devastating second wave of the pandemic,” said Al Jazeera’s Mittal.
Mumbai on Sunday moved around 600 COVID-19 patients from field hospitals “to safer places”, as sea level rose by up to three meters (10 feet) near the seaside town of Diu .
In Gujarat, all coronavirus patients in hospitals within five kilometers (3.1 miles) of the coast have also been relocated. But a patient died in the town of Mahuva when he could not be moved in time before the storm struck, doctors said.
Authorities have worked to ensure that there are no blackouts at nearly 400 designated COVID-19 hospitals and 41 oxygen factories in the region.
More than 1,000 COVID-19 hospitals in coastal towns have been fitted with generators, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told reporters.
The state also suspended vaccinations for two days. Mumbai did the same for a day.
‘Terrible double hit’
“This cyclone is a terrible double blow to millions of people in India whose families have been struck by record infections and deaths from COVID-19,” said Udaya Regmi of the International Federation of Red Cross Societies and of the Red Crescent.
The organization said it was helping authorities evacuate those most at risk in coastal areas, providing first aid, masks “and encouraging other critical preventive measures against COVID-19.”
Last May, more than 110 people died after “super cyclone” Amphan ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
The Arabian Sea has previously seen fewer severe cyclones than the Bay of Bengal, but rising water temperatures due to global warming have changed that, Roxy Mathew Koll of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology told the AFP press agency.
“(The) Arabian Sea is one of the fastest warming basins in the world’s oceans,” he said.
The effects were felt overwhelmingly with authorities in Nepal, some 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from Gujarat, advising mountaineers of Mount Everest and other mountains to stay put.
But more than 200 climbers ignored the warnings and headed for Everest, eyeing for the summit at the end of this week, a base camp government official said.
“I had already decided to wait for the summit after the 24th because the jet wind was in our region. Now the cyclone is also bringing moisture and possibly snow, ”Dawa Steven Sherpa of the Asian Trekking expedition organizer told AFP.
The cyclone was expected to bring heavy rains as far as New Delhi, over 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from the Gujarat coast and into Uttarakhand on the Himalayan border with Tibet.