Cyclone Tauktae barrels towards Guj coast; two barges adrift

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(Eds: Adds details) Mumbai, May 17 (PTI) A very severe cyclonic storm with winds gusting up to 185 km per hour was barreling towards the Gujarat coast Monday, dumping heavy rains on Mumbai, forcing the evacuation of over 1.5 lakh people in Gujarat and leaving two barges with 410 people on board adrift in the Arabian Sea.

Tropical storm 'Tauktae' which has intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm was packing wind speeds of about 20 kmph and is expected to reach Gujarat coast by the evening and cross it between 8 pm and 11 pm, the IMD said.

As the cyclone raged past the Maharashtra coast and inched closer to Mumbai in the morning, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport here announced the suspension of operations from 11 am to 2 pm and later decided to keep all operations shut till 6 pm.

Over 1.5 lakh people have been shifted from low-lying coastal areas in Gujarat, while 54 teams of the NDRF and SDRF remained deployed, an official said.

At least 17 COVID-19 patients on ventilator support in the Porbandar Civil Hospital's ICU were shifted to other facilities on Monday as a precautionary measure because of cyclone Tauktae which is heading towards the Gujarat coast, an official said.

The Centre has offered all help to Gujarat to deal with the cyclone and asked the Army, Navy and the Air Force to remain on standby to assist the administration if the need arises, the Gujarat government said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are in touch with the state government and have extended all possible help, said Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani after holding a meeting with collectors of coastal districts which are likely to face the maximum brunt of the cyclone.

The PM called up Rupani and enquired about the state government's preparedness to deal with the cyclone, the CMO said.

'Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday evening called up Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and sought details of preparation by the state government to deal with cyclone Tauktae, ' release from the Chief Minister's Office said.

Modi, during the telephone conversation, assured the state government of all possible help, it said.

'On receipt of a request for assistance for Barge 'P305' adrift off Heera Oil Fields in Bombay High area with 273 personnel onboard, warship INS Kochi was sailed with a despatch for Search and Rescue (SAR) assistance,' a Navy spokesperson said in Mumbai.

The oil fields are around 70 km southwest of Mumbai.

'Several other ships have been readied for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) tasking in the wake of Cyclone Tauktae that has wreaked havoc along the West coast of India,' he said.

'In response to another SOS received from Barge 'GAL Constructor' with 137 people on board about 8 nautical miles from Mumbai, warship INS Kolkata has been sailed with despatch to render assistance,' the spokesperson said.

Gale-force winds, heavy rainfall and high tidal waves swept the coastal belts of Maharashtra and Goa as Cyclone Tauktae hurtled northwards towards Gujarat.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Monday took stock of the situation in Mumbai, Thane and other coastal districts of the state in the wake of the cyclonic storm.

As Mumbai continued to be battered with heavy rains, over 12,000 citizens were relocated to safer places from the coastal areas. These include 8,380 people in Raigad, 3,896 in Ratnagiri and 144 in Sindhudurg districts.

The Indian Coast Guard said it rescued 12 fishermen stranded around 35 nautical miles off the Kochi coast amid rough seas due to the cyclone on the night of May 16.

On Monday, Mumbaikars woke up witnessing gusty winds and heavy showers due to the cyclone. Many Mumbaikars are enjoying the change in weather amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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