India is bracing for a powerful cyclone amid virus outbreak

cyclone india

On Monday, a powerful cyclone roaring in the Arabian Sea was moving toward India’s western coast, prompting authorities to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and suspend COVID-19 vaccinations in one state.

Cyclone Tauktae, which has already killed six people in southern India, was expected to make landfall in Gujarat state on Monday evening with winds of up to 175 kilometers (109 miles per hour) to the India Meteorological Department.

Forecasters warned that high winds, heavy rain, and flooding in low-lying areas could cause extensive damage.

The massive storm strikes as India battles a devastating coronavirus outbreak — and both the storm and the virus may exacerbate the effects of the other. Some vaccination efforts have already been halted due to the storm, and there is a higher risk of virus transmission in crowded evacuation shelters.

Meanwhile, virus lockdown measures could stymie relief efforts after the storm, and storm damage could destroy roads and disrupt vital supply lines for vaccines and medical supplies needed by virus patients.

Vaccinations were halted in Gujarat for two days while authorities worked to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to temporary relief shelters. The state’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, has directed officials to ensure that hospital oxygen supplies are not disrupted.

Operations at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport were halted for five hours in Maharashtra.

Fishing boats off the coasts of both states returned to their ports, and thousands of rescue and relief teams, as well as ships and aircraft, were deployed to assist with recovery efforts.

Udaya Regmi, the South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, described the cyclone as a “terrible double blow” for families already affected by COVID-19 infections and deaths.

“The potential impacts of Cyclone Tauktae are frightening as this monster storm threatens the state of Gujarat. Every effort must continue to keep people safe from this dangerous storm and the raging pandemic,” Regmi said.

Devastating cyclones are not new to India’s western coast, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense rather than more frequent.

Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm to hit eastern India in more than a decade, ravaged the region and left millions without power in May 2020, killing nearly 100 people.