MUMBAI (Reuters) – India began evacuating people from low-lying areas in and around Mumbai ahead of a cyclone that is expected to hit the country’s west coast on Wednesday, officials said.
The cyclone, expected to make landfall on Wednesday afternoon near India’s financial capital Mumbai, will pressure emergency services already grappling with the nation’s largest outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
India’s most populous city has more than 53,000 cases of COVID-19 infection, with more than 1,600 deaths.
A deep depression in the Arabian Sea “is very likely to intensify into a cyclonic storm during next 12 hours, and further into a severe cyclonic storm during subsequent 12 hours,” the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Tuesday.
The cyclone designated Nisarga could make landfall between north Maharashtra and the adjoining south Gujarat coast, with winds gusting up to 120 km per hour (75 mile per hour), the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane, the IMD said.
More than 30 disaster management teams have been deployed in the two states as Nisarga is expected to bring extremely heavy rainfall to west coast areas and could lead to flooding in low-lying areas, the state authorities said.
Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has been moving people living in slums and makeshift houses in the poorer sections of the state to places of shelter, the state’s chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, said.
Cyclones often skirt densely populated Mumbai, which floods every year during the June-September monsoon season, said K.S. Hosalikar, a Mumbai-based senior official with IMD.
Berthing operations at India’s largest container port, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), on the outskirts of Mumbai, are likely to be affected, its chairman, Sanjay Sethi, said.
Last month, a powerful cyclone that tore through the eastern state of West Bengal caused damage of 1 trillion rupees ($13 billion) to infrastructure and crops and killed more than 100 people in India and Bangladesh.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav)