A survivor from the barge that went adrift and sank into the Arabian ocean amid deadly Cyclone Tauktae has recounted his ordeal after being rescued by the Indian Navy on Wednesday.
Amit Kumar Kushwaha said he jumped into the ocean when the cargo vessel began to sink off India’s west coast.
He recalled holding on to his life jacket for 11 hours as he battled the extreme weather conditions in the sea and was left drifting in the Arabian ocean before the navy rescued him.
“The barge was sinking, so I had to jump into the sea and held on to my life jacket for 11 hours, floating in the sea,” he told ANI news agency.
Mr Kushwaha was among 188 survivors of the 261 people onboard on the ship that sank on Monday during the cyclone. As of Thursday, at least 37 bodies were recovered from the sea while 38 more people remain missing.
The survivors from the shipwreck thanked the Indian army for saving their lives and said they “wouldn’t have been alive if it wasn’t for them”, ANI reported.
Another worker from the barge said he got injured when he jumped into the turbulent sea waters. He broke down as he recalled his rescue, saying he and his colleagues “wouldn’t have been alive if it wasn’t for them (the navy)”.
The survivors said the sea was so rough that they could not board lifeboats. They jumped after realising all eight of the barge’s anchors had come loose due to the raging storm.
These survivors were on barge P305 when Cyclone Tauktae hit the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, one of four vessels owned by India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) which went adrift. P305 was carrying personnel deployed for offshore drilling when the storm struck.
Speaking to The Indian Express, chief engineer Rahman Shaikh recounted the incident leading up to the barge sinking, saying water started filling from a huge hole. He said two life rafts could be launched and another 14 were punctured, adding that there were 16 more rafts on the other side of the vessel but no one had the courage to go there as winds and high waves were crashing.
He said most of the men died from being in the water for too long and some due to panic and shock. “I saw death coming but was saved by the grace of Allah,” he said.
At least 91 people have died since Monday when the cyclone hit, and hundreds have been displaced. The death toll is expected to increase as coast guards and the navy are still searching for missing people in the ocean.
The wind speed of the cyclone reached nearly 150-180kmh with waves up to eight metres (26ft) high hammering offshore oil installations.
On shore, the cyclone led to serious impacts on infrastructure in a country which is still under the grips of a deadly coronavirus wave, disrupting the urgent response.
Images showed hospitals in Gujarat getting flooded, with reports of power cuts in Covid hospitals. In Mumbai, Maharashtra, streets were flooded and authorities in three hospitals rushed 580 Covid patients to safer locations.
While Cyclone Tauktae has waned, its impact on the weather is still being felt across northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi with heavy rainfall.
And states are now preparing for another weather system – Cyclone Yaas – on the east coast.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) warned on Wednesday that Cyclone Yaas is likely to make landfall on 26 May.
The cyclone is said to be on a par with Amphan, that led to widespread destruction in May 2020, leading to 110 deaths in both India and Bangladesh.