Waves lashed Mumbai's shoreline / © AFP
At least 27 people were dead and nearly 100 were missing on Tuesday after a monster cyclone slammed into western India, compounding the misery for millions of others who are enduring a devastating coronavirus surge.
Hundreds of thousands of people were without power after Cyclone Tauktae, one of a growing number of increasingly severe storms in the Arabian Sea blamed on climate change, hammered the Gujarat coast on Monday evening.
The cyclone packed gusts of up to 185 kilometres (115 miles) per hour, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines and mobile phone towers as it barrelled inland while weakening slightly.
One support vessel serving oil rigs that were hit by immense waves off the coast of Mumbai sank and 96 of the 273 people who had been on board were missing, the Indian Navy said Tuesday.
The defence ministry said 177 people were rescued from the vessel, with operations expected to continue throughout the day in "extremely challenging sea conditions".
Elsewhere one fresh casualty was reported on Tuesday, taking the confirmed death toll to at least 24 as savage winds swept through flimsy homes and turned streets into rivers.
Although the cyclone was one of the fiercest to hit the area in decades, better forecasting than in recent years allowed for strong preparations, and more than 200,000 people in danger zones were evacuated from their homes.
Mumbai authorities closed the airport and urged people to stay indoors, shifting about 600 Covid-19 patients in field hospitals "to safer locations", while sea levels swelled as high as three metres (10 feet) near the seaside town of Diu.
The deadly weather system has exacerbated India's embattled response to a coronavirus surge that is killing at least 4,000 people daily, and pushing the health system to breaking point.
Around 200,000 people were evacuated in Gujarat, where all Covid-19 patients in hospitals within five kilometres of the coast were also moved.
Authorities there scrambled to ensure there would be no power cuts in the nearly 400 designated Covid hospitals and 41 oxygen plants in the area.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani told reporters over 1,000 Covid hospitals in coastal towns have been provided with generators.
"Besides the daily requirement of 1,000 tonnes of oxygen in Gujarat per day, an additional stock of 1,700 tonnes has been secured and could be used in case of emergency," Rupani said.
Virus safety protocols such as wearing masks, social distancing and the use of sanitisers would be observed in the shelters for evacuees, officials added.
The state also suspended vaccinations for two days. Mumbai did the same for one day.
Terrible double blow
Thousands of disaster response personnel have been deployed to help with the fallout from Tauktae, while units from the coast guard, navy, army and air force have been placed on standby.
"This cyclone is a terrible double blow for millions of people in India whose families have been struck down by record Covid infections and deaths," said Udaya Regmi from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The organisation said it was helping authorities to evacuate people most at risk in coastal areas, providing first aid, masks "and encouraging other critical Covid-19 prevention measures".
Last May, more than 110 people died after "super cyclone" Amphan ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
The Arabian Sea previously experienced fewer severe cyclones than the Bay of Bengal but rising water temperatures because of global warming was changing that, Roxy Mathew Koll from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology told AFP.
"(The) Arabian Sea is one of the fastest-warming basins across the global oceans," he said.