India begins evacuation along west coast as cyclone nears Mumbai

New Delhi, Jun 2 (EFE).- India on Tuesday evacuated families from low-lying areas along its western coast as cyclone “Nisarg” closed in on Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, officials said.

The authorities have put the coastal states of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, and neighboring Gujarat on alert and deployed dozens of relief and rescue teams, putting further pressure on the government machinery already battling rising Covid-19 infections.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said alert has been sounded for Mumbai city, its suburbs and other neighboring districts in anticipation of the cyclone making landfall on Wednesday.

He added that the government has deployed 16 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams for rescue operations during the cyclone and put six more on standby.

Gujarat has also deployed around 15 NDRF teams.

The India Meteorological Department said Tuesday morning that a deep depression in the Arabian Sea could intensify into a cyclonic storm over the next 12 hours, and further into a severe cyclonic storm by Wednesday morning.

It warned that very heavy rainfall could lash Mumbai when the cyclone crosses the coastal city, bringing in winds gusting up to 120 km per hour (75 miles per hour), which is an equivalent to a category 1 hurricane.

“It will gradually increase becoming gale wind speed reaching 60-70 kmph gusting to 80 kmph from June 2 morning and further becoming 105-115 kmph gusting to 125 kmph,” the IMD said, warning of “very likely rough to very rough” sea conditions.

On Jun. 3-4, the wind speed is likely to reach 90-100 kmph, gusting to 110 kmph over the Gujarat coasts, and the sea condition is very likely to be high to very high.

Fishermen have been warned of high waves in the range of 2.3 – 6.5 meters (7.5-21 feet) as squally winds are expected to hit the western coast.

“Those staying in kucha (non-concrete) houses are being moved to safe places,” Thackeray said in a statement posted on his Twitter handle.

“The slum dwellers in Mumbai, especially in the low-lying areas have been instructed to evacuate.”

The chief minister stressed that precautions would be taken during the relief and rehabilitation efforts owing to the high number of Covid-19 cases in the state, especially its capital.

The novel coronavirus has already infected more than 53,000 people and claimed over 1,600 lives in Mumbai, considered India’s financial capital and also its most populous city.

Maharashtra and Gujarat are the two worst-hit states by the Covid-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had taken stock of the situation in the wake of cyclone conditions in parts of India’s western coast.

“I urge people to take all possible precautions and safety measures,” he wrote on Twitter.

This is set to be the second cyclone to hit India in less than two weeks, after severe cyclonic storm Amphan killed at least 90 people in eastern India after making landfall on May 20.

Nisarg comes at a moment when India has started easing the world’s largest lockdown of 1.3 billion people, imposed on Mar. 25 to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The disease has infected nearly 200,000 people and claimed over 5,600 lives in the country, making it the seventh most affected by the virus, while also causing the entire economy to come to a standstill as a result of the lockdown.

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