Mumbai, home to 20 million people, has emerged as the country’s coronavirus hot spot, with more than 40,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, straining its creaky health-care system. Among those evacuated to safety in the city from the approaching cyclone were coronavirus patients. The state raced to add reinforcements to some of its temporary health facilities built in the past month on open ground, structures that may not be strong enough to withstand the high wind speeds. Hospitals have been provided with generators.
“Let us fight this danger like we are standing up to the Corona pandemic and are on our way to defeat it,” the state’s chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, wrote in a tweet, asking residents to stay indoors for two days. The city was supposed to see a gradual lifting of the coronavirus lockdown this week. Flight operations were suspended at the Mumbai airport until Wednesday evening.
Vehicular movement was banned on a prominent sea link, and gatherings were prohibited across the city. Authorities have identified schools that could serve as temporary shelters and installed pumps in low-lying areas that could experience flooding. Besides disaster relief teams, fire engines, lifeguards and navy units have also been deployed. Authorities have advised people to keep their phones charged, have flashlights handy and brace for power cuts due to the heavy rainfall predicted.
K.S. Hosalikar, a senior official of the meteorological department in Mumbai, said the west coast of India is not known for major cyclones like its eastern part. “Last year was different. We saw five cyclones in the Arabian Sea, which was unusual,” he said. One of the reasons behind the phenomenon, he said, could be that the sea is getting warmer.
Experts differ on when India’s financial capital was last hit by a severe cyclone. The last cyclone to make landfall near Mumbai was in 2009, but the storm was not as strong as Nisarga.
Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist and professor at Columbia University, wrote that Nisarga could be “the strongest storm to affect the city directly in at least 70 years.” But according to M. Mohapatra, head of the country’s meteorological department, the last “severe cyclonic storm to hit close to Mumbai was in 1961,” the Hindustan Times reported.
Nisarga is the second cyclone to hit India in two weeks. In May, Cyclone Amphan battered the country’s east coast, killing at least 70 people.