Tauktae: 7 killed in Gujarat; 317 rescued from two barges

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(Eds: Combines related series) Ahmedabad/Mumbai, May 18 (PTI) At least seven people were killed in Gujarat as cyclone 'Tauktae' battered parts of the state and left behind a trail of destruction, while the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have so far rescued 317 people on board two barges that went adrift in the Arabian Sea near Mumbai, officials said on Tuesday.

Gujarat, where the cyclonic storm made a landfall on late Monday night before weakening, bore the brunt of the weather system which caused heavy rains, uprooted electric poles and trees, and damaged several houses and roads.

Tauktae crossed the Gujarat coast as an 'extremely severe cyclonic storm' around midnight and gradually weakened into a 'severe cyclonic storm,' before further weakening to a 'cyclonic storm' now, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

Over 16,000 houses were damaged, and more than 40,000 trees and over 1,000 poles uprooted due to the cyclonic storm in Gujarat, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said.

As many as 35 Gujart talukas received more than one inch of rainfall, with Bagasara taluka receiving 9 inches of rainfall, Gir Gadhada 8 inches, Una 8 inches, Savarkundla 7 inches and Amreli 5 inches. Rajula, Khamba, and Babra talukas each received 5 inches of rainfall, the CM said.

Also, 159 roads were damaged and 196 remained blocked due to different reasons, Rupani said, adding 45 of the roads were cleared for traffic so far.

There was a power outage in 2,437 villages and the supply has been restored in 484 villages till now, the CM said.

Heavy showers left many areas of Ahmedabad city inundated with knee-deep water during the day. The city received a staggering 75.69 mm of rain between 6 am and 4 pm, said Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Kumar.

An official of the State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC) confirmed three fatalities due to the cyclone, one each from Rajkot, Valsad and Bhavnagar.

In Patan, a woman died when an electric pole fell on her amid strong wind, an official from Patan A-division police station said.

In Badeli village in Palitana taluka of Bhavnagar district, a woman and her daughter were killed when the wall of their house collapsed, a local official said.

In another incident, a girl died after the roof of her house collapsed on four members of the family at Rajula in Amreli district on Monday night, police said.

The Coast Guard on Tuesday rescued eight fishermen onboard a fishing boat that drifted into the sea off the coast of Veraval harbour in Gujarat due to the cyclone, officials said.

Besides, two Coast Guard Chetak helicopters, operating from the CG airbase at the Union Territory of Daman, rescued eight crew members of the stranded ship 'Gal Constructor' from the sea off the Satpati coast (in Maharashtra) amidst very rough and inclement weather conditions, a release said.

Meanwhile, battling inclement weather, the Navy and Coast Guard have so far rescued 317 people on board two barges that went adrift in the Arabian Sea near Mumbai hours before Tauktae made landfall, but 390 more remain stranded or missing from offshore facilities, an official said.

Three barges and an oil rig with 707 personnel on board had gone adrift on Monday. These included accommodation barge P305 with 273 persons, cargo barge GAL Constructor with 137 personnel on board, accommodation barge SS-3 with 196 personnel on board and the Sagar Bhushan oil rig with 101 personnel on board, a Navy official said.

While all the 137 people on board the cargo barge GAL Constructor have been rescued, 180 of the 273 onboard P305 have been rescued so far, the official said.

'Two Coast Guard Chetak helicopters operating from the Coast Guard Air station in Daman rescued personnel on board the GAL Constructor. One more Chetak helicopter was also pressed into service for the SAR operations,' he said.

'Navy ships INS Beas, INS Betwa and INS Teg joined INS Kochi and INS Kolkata for undertaking Search and Rescue (SAR) operations for Barge P-305, which sank 35 nautical miles from Mumbai in the Mumbai Offshore Development Area,' the Navy spokesperson said.

'In another operation, a Navy Seaking helicopter was launched to rescue the crew of GAL Constructor, which ran aground north of Mumbai.

'It rescued 35 crew members,' he said. SAR efforts are also in progress off the coast of Gujarat for three vessels - Support Station 3, Great Ship Aditi and Drill Ship Sagar Bhushan, which are 15-20 nautical miles south-east off Gujarat coast (Pipavav),' he said.

The sea continues to be extremely rough with winds of 25-30 knots (approx 35-55 kmph), posing a challenge to the ships and aircraft involved in SAR operations, the Navy official said.

Images circulated by the Navy showed destroyer INS Kolkata picking up two survivors overnight from the barge P305. The Navy on Tuesday said the barge has sunk.

Dramatic TV visuals also showed personnel on board what looked like a sinking rig being rescued. There was no confirmation from Navy officials on the vessel's identity.

Navy ships were deployed on Monday after receipt of a request for assistance for barge 'P305' adrift off Heera oil fields in Bombay high area with 273 personnel on board. The oil fields are around 70 km southwest of Mumbai.

On Tuesday, a Navy helicopter brought some of the rescuees to INS Shikra (formerly known as INS Kunjali) naval air station at Colaba in south Mumbai.

State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) had on Monday said barge P305 with 261 personnel deployed for offshore drilling got de-anchored and began drifting because of the cyclonic storm Tauktae.

The Navy on Tuesday morning deployed the P-8I long- range, multimission maritime patrol aircraft to join the search and rescue operations, the Navy official said.

A rescuee from P305 said nobody tried to jump into the sea till the barge was afloat. All were together and safe till then, he added.

Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Murlidhar Sadashiv Pawar said the ongoing SAR is among the most challenging search and rescue operations he has seen in the last four decades.

'As we speak, four of our Navy ships are on-site - INS Kochi, INS Kolkata, INS Talwar and INS Betwa. For the last 20 hours, they have been battling to search and rescue as many people as they can through the night and the challenging weather conditions,' he said.

'The main operation pertains to searching and rescuing people from the barge P305 which sank about 60 km from Mumbai at 7 pm on Monday. The main challenge is the weather itself.

This is an extremely severe cyclonic storm with winds of 80-90 knots, wave heights of 6 to 8 metres, continuous rains, heavy clouding, and almost zero visibility,' he said.

The cyclonic storm Tauktae claimed three lives and left 10 others injured in Mumbai over the last 24 hours when it passed close to the city coast, while five persons were killed in Thane and Palghar districts of Maharashtra in various incidents related to the cyclone, officials said.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the cyclonic storm lay centred over Saurashtra, around 75 km south-southwest of Ahmedabad and 40 km west of Surendranagar, and 190 km of Deesa, with the wind intensity now reduced to 70-80 kmph gusting to 90 kmph, the IMD said.

IMD (Ahmedabad) chief Manorama Mohanty told reporters the cyclonic storm is likely to prevail with a wind speed of 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph.

Districtssuch as Amreli, Bhavnagar, Navsari, Valsad, and Sabarkantha among others in Gujarat, and the Union Territory of Daman and Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Sabarkantha arelikely to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall, she said.

'The cyclone completed the landfall in Gujarat at 1:30 am last night, with Amreli, Gir Somnath, Junagadh, Porbandar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, and Botad districts in Saurashtra region remaining the worst affected,' said Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) Pankaj Kumar. PTI KA PD PJT DC AA KRK VT GK NSK RSY RSY