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Mumbai, struggling with Covid crisis, braces for its first cyclone as IMD tracks Nisarga

With Cyclone Nisarga expected to make landfall in 12 hours, Maharashtra is working to ensure people in low-lying areas and make-shift Covid facilities are moved to safer locations.

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Mumbai: The Maharashtra government, which is currently struggling to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, is staring at another impending crisis ⁠— Nisarga, a potential severe cyclonic storm that is expected to cross the coasts of north Maharashtra and south Gujarat on 3 June.

The Maharashtra government issued an alert to the coastal districts of Mumbai City, Mumbai suburban, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted heavy-to-very-heavy rainfall for the districts of Mumbai, Palghar, Thane and Raigad.

“The deep depression over the east central Arabian Sea moved northwards with a speed of 11 kmph during the past six hours … It is very likely to intensify into a cyclonic storm during the next six hours and further into a severe cyclonic storm during the next 12 hours,” the IMD said in a statement at 2.15 pm Tuesday.

It also said Cyclone Nisarga is likely to cross north Maharashtra and adjoining south Gujarat coasts, between Harihareshwar and Daman, close to Alibag in Maharashtra’s Raigad district during the afternoon of 3 June. The severe cyclonic storm is expected to bring with it winds of a maximum sustained speed of 100-110 kmph, gusting to 120 kmph.

However, it could be less intense than the recent Cyclone Amphan. Categorised as an extremely severe cyclonic storm, it had ravaged parts of West Bengal 10 days ago.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah Monday had a video conference with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to assess the state’s preparedness ahead of the possible severe cyclone. He also promised to deploy the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) from nearby states if required.

Cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray, in charge of environment and tourism portfolios, held a meeting with senior officials from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Tuesday. He later tweeted, “While we fight Covid we are also prepping ourselves to deal with the cyclone … all necessary agencies are on standby to meet emergencies during the cyclone Nisarga and we are reviewing the situation and preps constantly.”

Also read: All about cyclone Nisarga, set to hit Maharashtra and Gujarat on 3 June

Evacuation plans, shifting of Covid patients

Local authorities along Maharashtra’s coastal districts are busy implementing evacuation plans, calling fishing boats back from the sea, shifting slum dwellers or those living in kaccha houses from low-lying areas and readying medical facilities to brace for the impending crisis.

A senior state government secretary said, “We will have a better idea about the exact number of people evacuated by the end of the day. Ten out of 16 National Disaster Response Force are ready to be deployed. Six teams of the State Disaster Response Force have also been kept ready.”

As a precautionary measure, patients from makeshift Covid-19 hospitals in vulnerable districts are being moved to safer structures.

For instance, the BMC is in the process of shifting more than 150 patients admitted in the recently-commissioned 1,000-bed Covid care facility in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) had developed the healthcare facility and opened it last month.

The MMRDA tweeted, “The impending threat of Nisarga Cyclone is upon Mumbai. Although the COVID19 hospital can sustain strong winds of up to 80km – 100km per hour, however, with human lives at stake, as a precautionary measure, all the patients (about 150) from the hospital are being shifted by the BMC.”

“The MMRDA is taking extra measures like more strengthening of pillars with sand bags, doing bracing of structure of Covid facility at BKC, switching of electricity, AC and oxygen facility during cyclone to prevent fire incidents. All project sites are also being protected,” it posted.

The BMC’s ward-level officers have also been issuing warnings to slum dwellers along Mumbai’s coastal and low-lying areas, and are readying municipal schools to take large number of people in case the population needs to be shifted.

Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Municipal Commissioner in G North ward, which covers the coastal areas of Dadar, Mahim and the large slum belt of Dharavi, said, “We have already warned 2,500 slum settlements along the coast and informed nearby hospitals such as Hinduja and Sushrusha to be ready. We are using public address systems and hoardings to spread awareness about Nisarga in vulnerable areas of the ward.”

Palghar District Collector Kailash Shinde said they identified 577 fishing boats that were out in the sea and by noon only 13 were left to be brought back.

“We are also in the process of…evacuating 40,000 people who would be most vulnerable to the storm,” Shinde said.

Also read: In Mumbai’s civic hospitals, relatives are risking coronavirus to take care of loved ones

Nisarga could be first cyclone to hit Mumbai

K.S. Hosalikar, Deputy Director General, IMD, said, “Right now, there is no forecast for a direct landfall in Mumbai. But if it does hit the city, Nisarga would be the first cyclone to affect Mumbai. Somehow in the past, cyclones have miraculously missed Mumbai. IMD doesn’t have any record of any cyclone having hit Mumbai until now.”

However, Mumbai is known to crumble under heavy rains and floods every monsoon. This year, the city will be struggling to stay afloat while also containing the spread of coronavirus. With nearly 40,000 cases, Mumbai has become the country’s epicentre for the pandemic. Maharashtra accounts more than 70,000 cases, the highest in the country.

Also read: Mumbai is now India’s national Covid epicentre, but it is not what New York City is to US


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