by Ammu Kannampilly / Vishal Manve
Coronavirus-hit Mumbai appeared to escape the worst of Cyclone Nisarga on Wednesday as the first severe storm to threaten India’s financial capital in more than 70 years left it largely unscathed after ripping roofs off homes in a nearby coastal town.
Mumbai and its surrounds are usually sheltered from cyclones — the last deadly storm to hit the city was in 1948 — but authorities evacuated at least 100,000 people, including coronavirus patients, from flood-prone areas in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The storm made landfall near the coastal town of Alibag, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Mumbai, on Wednesday afternoon, meteorologists said.
It then crossed Maharashtra’s coast, with its path veering to the east of Mumbai and its power expected to weaken by Wednesday night, they added.
The cyclone brought heavy rainfall — with winds of 100-110 kilometres per hour (60-70 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 120 kph.
Mumbai experienced downpours throughout the afternoon, with strong winds toppling trees in some cases.
The beach town of Alibag suffered worse damage, with the cyclone tearing roofs off homes and overturning mobile food stalls.
A 45-year-old professor evacuated from his house near the sea told AFP he could see corrugated roofing flying through the air as Nisarga’s powerful winds struck.
“The intensity is very strong and nothing like weather events we’ve seen before,” said Milind Dhodre, who lives in Alibag with his wife and son.
The coastal town is a favoured haunt of Bollywood stars and industrialists, who own holiday homes there.
‘Next 4 hours crucial’
In Mumbai, police announced fresh restrictions on the city of 18 million people, which was just beginning to emerge from a months-long lockdown, and banned gatherings of four people or more until Thursday afternoon.
India’s worst-hit city, Mumbai is home to a fifth of India’s more than 200,000 coronavirus cases.
The storm evacuees included nearly 150 coronavirus patients from a recently built field hospital in Mumbai, underscoring the difficulties facing the city ahead of the monsoon season as it struggles to contain the pandemic.
“Refrain from venturing out to coast-beaches, promenade, parks and other similar places along the coastline,” the police tweeted early Wednesday.
“Do not leave your house for your own safety and well-being,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray tweeted late Tuesday, warning of possible disruptions to the power supply due to heavy rainfall.
Warnings of storm surges up to two metres high (6.5 feet) remained in effect on Wednesday afternoon, with slum-dwellers in low-lying areas of Mumbai instructed to move to higher ground.
Even as the city’s residents breathed a sigh of relief, forecasters warned the storm could still carry a sting in its tail until it eased.
“Next 4 hours crucial for #Mumbai, the tail of the cyclone may lash and can cause severe damage,” tweeted Jatin Singh, head weatherman at Skymet Weather, a private forecaster.
The storm triggered disruptions to travel as well, with planes grounded and inter-state railway services delayed or diverted to ensure that trains would not travel through the city until the cyclone had passed.
Nisarga comes on the heels of Cyclone Amphan, which killed more than 100 people as it ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh last month, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without electricity.