A cyclone is set to hit the western coast of India -- the country’s industrialized belt with big refineries and ports -- on Tuesday morning, prompting authorities already grappling with a deadly second virus wave to start preparations for evacuating citizens.
Cyclone Tauktae, which lay about 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from the financial hub of Mumbai, is expected to make landfall in the southern districts of Gujarat, with wind speeds touching 175 kilometers per hour, according to the India Meteorological Department. It has intensified into a “very severe cyclonic storm”, the national weather forecaster said in a tweet Sunday.
Local authorities in Mumbai have already moved hundreds of COVID-19 patients to other facilities. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his senior government officials to ensure “maintenance of all essential services such as power, telecommunications, health and drinking water”, according to a May 15 statement from Press Information Bureau.
India is currently the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, where hospitals and crematoriums are getting overwhelmed amid the world’s fastest-surging outbreak. Any disruption from the cyclone threatens to worsen the already-existing shortages of medical supplies from oxygen cylinders to vaccines.
Modi also said that special care needs to be taken to ensure that there is the least possible disruption in oxygen supply from Jamnagar in Gujarat -- the site of Reliance Industries Ltd.’s massive refinery complex that is currently India’s largest medical-grade oxygen provider from one location.
The IMD has warned of a storm surge of as much as 3 meters that can inundate coastal areas including the Jamnagar district.
Modi also sought special preparations for Covid hospitals, essential medicines, cold storage facilities for vaccines and for the unhindered movement of oxygen tankers, according to the statement.
The Navy and the coast guard have deployed ships and helicopters for relief operations, it said, along with the Air Force and the engineering units of the Army on standby. India’s National Disaster Response Force has deployed 42 teams which are equipped with boats, tree-cutters, telecom equipment in six states and has kept 26 teams on standby.
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