A deadly cyclone is bearing down on India’s western coast, as authorities scramble to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.
Cyclone Tauktae, which has already killed six people in southern parts of the COVID-ravaged country, was expected to make landfall on Monday evening in Gujarat state with winds of up to 109 miles per hour.
Forecasters from the India Meteorological Department warned of possible extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas.
The huge storm comes as the country battles a devastating coronavirus surge – and both the extreme weather and the virus could exacerbate the effects of the other.
Some vaccination efforts have been suspended in areas due to be struck by the cyclone and there is greater risk of virus transmission in crowded evacuation shelters.
Lockdown measures, meanwhile, could slow relief work after the storm, damage from which could destroy roads and cut vital supply lines for vaccines and medical supplies needed for virus patients.
In Gujarat, vaccinations were suspended for two days as officials worked to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to temporary relief shelters.
In Maharashtra, operations at Mumbai city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport were suspended for five hours.
Fishing boats off the coast in both states returned to their harbours and thousands of rescue and relief teams, along with ships and aircraft, were deployed for recovery operations.
The South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Udaya Regmi, said the cyclone was a “terrible double blow” for families affected by the deadly COVID-19 surge.
“The potential impacts of Cyclone Tauktae are frightening as this monster storm threatens the state of Gujarat,” he said.
“Every effort must continue to keep people safe from this dangerous storm and the raging pandemic.”
Changing climate patterns have caused devastating cyclones to become more intense on India’s western coast, where the storms are already relatively common.
Almost 100 people died after Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm to hit eastern India in more than a decade, swept through the region and left millions without power in May 2020.
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