India's western state of Gujarat braced for cyclone Tauktae, reported to be the strongest storm to hit the region since 1998. Jessie Yeung and Swati Gupta report for CNN: "The Indian military is continuing search and rescue operations for a third day after a deadly cyclone left scores missing and stranded at sea. Cyclone Tauktae, the strongest storm on record to hit India's west coast, has killed at least 40 people since it made landfall in western Gujarat state on Monday night. The cyclone formed in the Arabian Sea, and tore past the financial hub of Mumbai, in Maharashtra state, before reaching Gujarat. Its strong winds and heavy rain caused flooding and destruction in low-lying coastal regions, even before it made landfall."
"Branches of the military, including the air force and navy, are now scouring the sea to rescue personnel on all operational oil rigs and vessels that were in the path of the cyclone. One barge, operated by the Indian Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), held a crew of 261 people when it sank in an offshore oilfield on Monday due to the force of the cyclone. As of Thursday, the navy has rescued 188 crew members and recovered 26 bodies, said a navy spokesperson, adding it was still searching for the remaining 47 personnel."
"'We have five ships in the area and two are coming back with the rescued personnel and remaining three are staying for search and rescue,' said spokesperson Vivek Madhwal. Late Tuesday, the navy said search and rescue operations would include helicopters and other naval assets, despite the 'extremely challenging circumstances.'"
"Another barge, the Gal Constructor, ran aground off the west coast of Mumbai on Monday. The navy deployed a helicopter and several emergency vessels to evacuate the 137 crew members on board, all of whom are accounted for. Two other barges are being towed to safety by ONGC tugboats, Madhwal said. ONGC is India's biggest oil and gas company, with many of the barges used to service its offshore operations."
"So far, deaths have been recorded in the western states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat and Goa. Harshal Patel, the Gujarat relief commissioner, said Wednesday they were 'accidental casualties' in the wake of the cyclone. Other state authorities have cited lightning strikes, building collapses, and the falling of trees and electricity poles as cyclone-related causes of deaths."
"The cyclone had maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour, equivalent to a high-end Category 3 hurricane, when it made landfall. As of late Tuesday, it had weakened into a deep depression. It is expected to weaken further on Wednesday as it moves north into Rajasthan state, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. In Gujarat, the hardest-hit state, 236 018 people were evacuated to 3575 relief camps. The number of missing people is 'yet to be assessed,' according to data from the State Emergency Operation Center on Tuesday night."
"More than 2435 villages lost power, though 484 have since had it restored. Storm surges of up to 4 meters could bring significant coastal flooding to the region, the IMD warned. Ahmedabad, the most populated city in Gujarat, could see nearly 102 mm of rainfall in the next 24 to 48 hours -- more than its average rainfall from January through June." Though this year's monsoon season isn't scheduled to start until June 1, it might arrive early due to Cyclone Tauktae's landfall and the change of winds, according to CNN meteorologists.
The BBC completes: "The Indian navy has mounted a massive air and sea rescue mission for the missing oil workers, which is being hampered by huge waves: 'There are waves of 6 to 7.6 m, the winds are high and the visibility is low,' said navy spokesman Vivek Madhwal. More than 200 000 people in low-lying areas were moved to shelters, sparking fears of possible new coronavirus clusters in coming weeks. And the federal government has also ordered the vaccine drive to be halted in several coastal towns believed to be at risk."
In another article written by Jessie Yeung and Esha Mitra, CNN deals with the consequences of the cyclone regarding the pandemic: "India is the global epicenter of the pandemic. Its health care system has collapsed and patients are still dying from shortages of oxygen and other supplies. The government is more fragile and under greater scrutiny than before, as it struggles to contain the outbreak while facing heavy criticism both at home and overseas. And the cyclone could be just the harbinger of more disaster to come, as India's months-long monsoon season approaches."
Jessie Yeung adds: "Among the 400 Covid-19 hospitals in Gujarat, power supply has been disrupted to 100, said Rupani on Tuesday. All the hospitals have backup generators -- but these appliances failed at four hospitals, leaving them without electricity. Authorities are working to repair the affected generators, Rupani said. Vaccinations have been suspended across Gujarat. 'The big concern was that of Covid,' he said. 'The oxygen which we produce has been transported to our hospitals, but we also have to send oxygen to other states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, etc.'" Tauktae resulted in at least 90 deaths in India, 5 in Pakistan and left another 81 people missing. The cyclone made landfall in Gujarat the same day as India recorded its, at the time, highest single-day COVID death toll, with 4329 deaths reported.