Cyclone Tauktae makes landfall: Major Gujarat airports shut, 1.5 lakh evacuated

Cyclone Tauktae
A policeman directs people to leave as waves approach the shore ahead of Cyclone Tauktae in Veraval in the western state of Gujarat, India, May 17, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Amit Dave

Mumbai/Ahmedabad: A very severe cyclonic storm with winds gusting up to 185 km per hour made landfall on the Gujarat coast Monday night, after dumping heavy rains on Mumbai, forcing the evacuation of over 1.5 lakh people in Gujarat and leaving two barges with 410 people on board adrift in the Arabian Sea.

Six persons were killed in Maharashtra's Konkan region in separate incidents related to the severe cyclonic storm and three sailors remained missing after two boats sank in the sea, officials said.

Three persons died in Raigad district, a sailor in Sindhudurg district and two persons were killed in Navi Mumbai and Ulhasnagar in Thane district after trees fell on them.

Two boats with seven sailors on board, anchored in the Anandwadi harbour in Sindhudurg district capsized, an official statement said.

Airports shut

Major airports in Gujarat shutdown operations till Tuesday as a precautionary measure.

Barring the Rajkot airport, which will remain shut for flights till May 19, other three major airports - Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara - will remain closed for both domestic and international flights till Tuesday, officials said.

The Ahmedabad airport, which suspended its operations on Monday evening, will resume flights after 5 am on Tuesday.

"The Ahmedabad airport is fully prepared for cyclone Tauktae, and as a precautionary measure our operations will remain suspended from 19:30 hrs, 17th May to 05:00 hrs, 18th May 2021," the airport said in a statement.

Both Vadodara and Surat airports suspended take off and landing of flights at 11am on Monday and will resume operations at 1 pm on Tuesday, the officials said.

The Rajkot airport has announced that its operations, which came to a halt at 4pm on Monday, will remain suspended till 11:15 hours on May 19.

As the cyclone moved past the Maharashtra coast in the morning, Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport initially announced the suspension of operations from 11am to 2pm and later decided to keep all operations shut till8 pm.

Over 1.5 lakh evacuated

Cyclone Tauktae
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) deployed ahead of cyclone Tauktae at the coastline of Veraval, Gir Somnath, Monday, May 17, 2021. Photo: PTI

Over 1.5 lakh people were shifted from low-lying coastal areas in Gujarat, while 54 teams of the NDRF and SDRF remained deployed, an official said.

At least 17 COVID-19 patients on ventilator support in the Porbandar Civil Hospital's ICU were shifted to other facilities on Monday as a precautionary measure because of cyclone Tauktae which is heading towards the Gujarat coast, an official said.

The Centre has offered all help to Gujarat to deal with the cyclone and asked the Army, Navy and the Air Force to remain on standby to assist the administration if the need arises, the Gujarat government said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are in touch with the state government and have extended all possible help, said Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani after holding a meeting with collectors of coastal districts which are likely to face the maximum brunt of the cyclone.

The PM called up Rupani and enquired about the state government's preparedness to deal with the cyclone, the CMO said.

A major cyclone in Gujarat on June 9, 1998 had brought widespread death and destruction in its wake, particularly in the port town of Kandla.

Cyclone Tauktae
Strong sea waves near the Gateway of India as cyclone Tauktae approaches the coast of Mumbai, Monday, May 17, 2021. Photo: PTI/Shashank Parade

While official figures had then put the death toll at 1,173, adding 1,774 went missing, media reports, eyewitness and volunteer accounts suggested that this was grossly an understatement.

A leading news magazine had then claimed that at least 4,000 people had died and countless went missing as bodies were washed to the sea.

The Indian Navy on Monday deployed three of its frontline warships after receiving messages to rescue 410 people on board two barges off the Mumbai coast.

The ships deployed to extend assistance to the two barges were INS Kolkata, INS Kochi and INS Talwar.

"On receipt of a request for assistance for a barge 'P305' adrift off Heera oil fields in Bombay high area with 273 personnel onboard, INS Kochi was swiftly sailed with a despatch for search and rescue assistance," Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said.

The oil fields are around 70 km southwest of Mumbai.

"In response to another SOS received from barge 'GAL Constructor' with 137 people onboard about 8NM from Mumbai, INS Kolkata has been sailed to render assistance," the Navy officer said.

A Navy spokesperson in Mumbai said in the night that the rescue operations on Barge 305 were being undertaken amid extreme weather conditions.

The Indian Coast Guard said it rescued 12 fishermen stranded around 35 nautical miles off the Kochi coast amid rough seas due to the cyclone on the night of May 16.

Gale-force winds, heavy rainfall and high tidal waves swept the coastal belts of Maharashtra and Goa as Tauktae hurtled northwards towards Gujarat.

Winds blew at 114 kmph in Mumbai on Monday afternoon as the cyclonic storm passed close to the Mumbai coast, civic officials said.

The highest wind speed of 108 km per hour was recorded at the Colaba observatory in the afternoon, said Shubhangi Bhute, senior director, IMD Mumbai.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Monday took stock of the situation in Mumbai, Thane and other coastal districts of the state in the wake of the cyclonic storm.

As Mumbai and other coastal areas continued to be battered with heavy rains, over 12,000 people were relocated to safer places from the coastal areas. These include 8,380 people in Raigad, 3,896 in Ratnagiri and 144 in Sindhudurg districts.

On Monday, Mumbaikars woke up witnessing gusty winds and heavy showers due to the cyclone. Many Mumbaikars are enjoying the change in weather amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

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