Mumbai braces for its 1st cyclone in over a century
On the other side of India in Assam, at least 20 are dead from mudslides triggered by rains
A cyclone in the Arabian Sea was barrelling toward India's business capital Mumbai on Tuesday, threatening to deliver high winds and flooding to an area already struggling with the nation's highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths.
Cyclone Nisarga was forecast to make landfall Wednesday afternoon on the country's west coast near Mumbai, a coastal city home to 18.4 million people and known for the Bollywood film industry. Mumbai hasn't been hit by a cyclone in more than a century, raising concern about its readiness.
National Disaster Response Force personnel have been sent to both Maharashtra state, home to Mumbai, and nearby Gujarat state and officials were urging people in at-risk areas to evacuate.
Maharashtra's top official, Uddhav Balasheb Thackeray, said on Twitter that residents in Mumbai's expansive slums had been ordered to evacuate, though it was not immediately clear if shelters had been set up. He also said some 150 coronavirus patients had been moved out of a hospital near the city's beachfront.
India's meteorological department said the storm could intensify throughout the day Tuesday into a severe cyclone, which is defined as a cyclone with wind speeds of 119 to 165 kilometres per hour and is the fourth-most powerful category on the local scale.
Nisarga comes just two weeks after Cyclone Amphan tore through the Bay of Bengal on India's east coast and battered West Bengal state, killing more than 100 people in India and neighbouring Bangladesh.
Although post-monsoon flooding is common in Mumbai in the fall, some experts fear the city isn't prepared for the high winds and storm surges that come with a cyclone.
"There's been no test of how the city does in a cyclone," said Adam Sobel, a climate scientist at Columbia University who has studied the risk to Mumbai. "It just makes me nervous."
The storm comes as the area grapples with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Maharashtra and Gujarat states have reported about 44 per cent of India's 198,000 COVID-19 cases nationwide, and 61 per cent of all virus deaths.
Local news reports have shown an overwhelmed hospital system in Mumbai, with bodies left in wards and patients resting on hospital floors until beds become available.
Family decimated in Assam village
Across the country in northeastern India, three mudslides triggered by overnight rains buried homes in Assam state, killing 20 people and injuring at least seven others, authorities said Tuesday.
Seven of the victims were members of a single family, said M.S. Manivannan, head of the state disaster management authority. He said seven people were hospitalized. Their medical conditions were not immediately clear.
The mudslides occurred in the districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi, large parts of which share borders with Bangladesh.
"Rescue operations are still on to ascertain if any more people are trapped under the debris," Manivannan said.
Pre-monsoon rains have caused rivers to flood in large parts of Assam, with at least 10 deaths reported so far.
The state's main river, Brahmaputra, and its many tributaries flood heavily each year, forcing many to take shelter on higher ground.
Sarbananda Sonowal, the state's highest elected official as chief minister, has been touring flood-hit areas to inspect relief and rescue operations in the last few days.