By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, May 17 (IANS) At least 6 persons were killed in Maharashtra as the fury of Cyclone Tauktae wreaked havoc in the state, bringing heavy rains, strong gales of over 100 km/hr, uprooting scores of trees, damaging over 2,500 homes, disrupting road traffic, and forcing shutdown of Mumbai international airport for at least 9 hours, officials said.
In a worrisome development, the Indian Navy despatched two ships to rescue 410 personnel, including 273 of the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) stranded on a drifting barge near the Bombay High Fields, around 175 kms off Mumbai, in the direct path of the cyclone whirling towards Gujarat in the choppy Arabian Sea, and others on a barge around 15 kms near the city.
At least 6 persons were killed and 9 injured in various cyclone related incidents in the state, said an official from the CMO.
Categorised as ‘Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm’, its impact was felt shortly after midnight with many areas lashed heavy rains, with lightning and thunder in some places, aggravated by powerful winds upto 120 km/hr, as it cascaded northwards from Sindhudurg-Ratnagiri towards Raigad-Mumbai en route to the Gujarat coast.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who personally monitored the situation, orderd the state authorities to shift out 12,500 people from vulnerable coastal spots in Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Raigad, and he also apprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the measures taken to minimise casualties and damage.
Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport was shut for all operations from 11am and the shutdown was extended till 8 pm at regular intervals owing to inclement weather conditions, while 3 private airlines flights were diverted to less turbulent locations.
By evening, the city had recorded an average of 120mm and the downpour continued in most areas, with the intensity moving northwards.
The pouring rains substantially cooled the weather at the height of mid-summer when Mumbai normally swelters with the mercury remaining in the upper-30s-to-mid-40s.
Several roads were littered as at least 30 big and small trees got uprooted in different parts of Mumbai and Thane, during the night, besides damage to homes, buildings, offices, factories, major subways in Malad, Kandivali, Dahisar, Andheri and Santacruz flooded and closed to traffic for hours, and many low-lying areas waterlogged, adding to the people’s woes.
There was considerable damage in the form of roofs of hutments getting blown away in the city and suburbs, the name hoarding of the St. Francis D’Assissi School & College – the site for many Bollywood film shootings in Borivali, ripped and breaking down, signals, electric poles, hoardings, road signs, banners, etc., getting uprooted or tossed away long distances, in different parts of the city, blocking roads, highways and railway tracks.
However, there was no disruption to any of the Covid-19 treatment centres or jumbo field hospitals which had been evacuated of patients by the BMC on Saturday evening, said the official.
The cyclone, hovering around 160 kms away from the Mumbai coast, is likely to make a landfall in south Gujarat coast by midnight tonight, said the IMD’s latest warning bulletin.
Accompanied by strong winds of 180-190 kmph, gusting to 210 kmph, its ferocity is expected to reduce gradually over the next 48 hours into a depression with 40-60 kmph windspeeds by Wednesday morning, the IMD said.
The combined effect of the strong winds and rains resulted in ‘Phenomenal’ 3-metres tall waves building up in the frothy Arabian Sea alogn with tidal waves and the authorities have completely banned all fishing and other maritime activities for the next few days.
The huge waves lashed the iconic 97-year-old Gateway of India, waters smashed on the promenade onto the entrance of the imposing 118-year-old Hotel Taj Mahal, similar scenes were witnessed at the Marine Drive, Haji Ali, Worli, Mahim, Bandra, Juhu, Versova, Manori, Gorai and other beachfronts.
Most areas of the city wore a desolate look with people preferring to remain indoors, and a few who dared venture out despite the cyclone and the ongoing lockdown restrictions, were stuck either on blocked or waterlogged roads or in traffic snarls.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)