'Tauktae' landfall starts; 2 lakh moved in Guj; 6 dead in Maha

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(Eds: Updates with latest info, quotes) Mumbai, May 17 (PTI) A very severe cyclonic storm with winds gusting up to 185 km per hour began making landfall on Gujarat's Saurashtra coast near Diu on Monday night, after dumping heavy rains on Mumbai, forcing the evacuation of over 2 lakh people in Gujarat and leaving two barges with 410 people on board adrift in the Arabian Sea.

Six persons were killed in Maharashtra's Konkan region in separate incidents related to the severe cyclonic storm and three sailors remained missing after two boats sank in the sea earlier in the day, officials said.

'The landfall process of extremely severe cyclonic storm Tauktae has started as forward sector of eye of the storm is entering the Saurashtra coast to the east of Diu,' the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said in Ahmedabad.

The tropical storm 'Tauktae' (pronounced as Tau'Te), which had intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm, lies close to the Gujarat coast, the IMD said.

The wind speed at the Union Territory of Diu was 133 kmph when the cyclone started making its landfall at around 9.30 pm, the Met office said.

The ESCS (extremely severe cyclonic storm) TAUKTAE lies close to Gujarat coast. The landfall process started and will continue during next 02 hours, IMD said in a Twitter post.

The forward sector of eye is entering into the land.

The centre of the cyclone will cross Saurashtra coast to the east of Diu within next 03 hours. Outer cloud band lies over Saurashtra, the IMD said in another tweet.

An IMD official said the eye of the storm is likely to cross the Gujarat coast in about two hours.

We expect that the eye of the storm will cross the coast in about two hours,' said Assistant Director of the Gujarat Meteorological Centre Manorama Mohanty.

She said Tauktae, potentially the most devastating cyclone to hit Gujarat in almost 23 years, would make a landfall anywhere between the Union Territory of Diu and Mahuva town of Bhavnagar district just near Diu.

Gujarat Chief Minister also confirmed that the process of landfall has started.

He said coastal districts of Amreli, Junagadh, Gir- Somnath and Bhavnagar will face the maximum brunt as the wind speed would go up to 150 kmph when the eye of the storm would make a landfall.

'It is predicted that the landfall would happen after around 2 hours. The effect continues even after the eye of the storm would pass. Thus, the effect of the cyclone will remain till 1 am,' Rupani told reporters in Gandhinagar.

Mohanty said the place above which the eye of a cyclone crosses is designated as the 'place of landfall'.

The Gujarat government has shifted over 2 lakh people from low-lying areas in coastal towns to safer places and mobilised disaster response teams 44 from the NDRF and 10 from the SDRF - officials said.

Major airports in Gujarat, including Ahmedabad and Surat, have shut down operations as a precautionary measure.

Barring the Rajkot airport, which will remain shut for flights till 11:15 am on May 19, other three major airports - Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara -will remain closed for both domestic and international flights till Tuesday.

The Ahmedabad Airport, which suspended its operations on Monday evening, will resume its operations after 5 am on Tuesday, the airport 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 need arises, the state 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 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 CM office said here.

Modi, during the telephone conversation, assured the state government of all possible help, it 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,' a release from the Chief Minister's Office said.

The CM informed Modi about the precautionary steps taken by the Gujarat government to deal with the cyclone, it said.

Meanwhile, six persons were killed in Maharashtra's Konkan region in separate incidents related to the severe cyclonic storm and three sailors remained missing after two boats sank in the sea, officials said.

Three persons died in Raigad district, a sailor in Sindhudurg district and two persons were killed in Navi Mumbai and Ulhasnagar in Thane district after trees fell on them.

Two boats with seven sailors on board, anchored in the Anandwadi harbour in Sindhudurg district capsized, an official statement said.

As the cyclone moved past the Maharashtra coast in the morning, Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport initially announced the suspension of operations from 11 am to 2 pm and later decided to keep all operations shut till 10 pm.

Flight operations at the Mumbai airport eventually resumed on Monday night after being suspended for 11 hours due to the cyclone Tauktae.

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 the cyclone, 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.

A major cyclone in Gujarat on June 9, 1998 had brought widespread death and destruction in its wake, particularly in the port town of Kandla.

While official figures had then put the death toll at 1,173, adding 1,774 went missing, media reports, eyewitness and volunteer accounts suggested that this was grossly an understatement.

A leading news magazine had then claimed that at least 4,000 people had died and countless went missing as bodies were washed to the sea.

The Indian Navy on Monday deployed three of its frontline warships after receiving messages to rescue 410 people on board two barges off the Mumbai coast.

The ships deployed to extend assistance to the two barges were INS Kolkata, INS Kochi and INS Talwar.

'On receipt of a request for assistance for a barge 'P305' adrift off Heera oil fields in Bombay high area with 273 personnel onboard, INS Kochi was swiftly sailed with a despatch for search and rescue assistance,' Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said.

The oil fields are around 70 km southwest of Mumbai.

'In response to another SOS received from barge 'GAL Constructor' with 137 people onboard about 8NM from Mumbai, INS Kolkata has been sailed to render assistance,' the Navy officer said.

A Navy spokesperson in Mumbai said in the night that the rescue operations on Barge 305 were being undertaken amid extreme weather conditions.

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.

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

Winds blew at 114 kmph in Mumbai on Monday afternoon as the cyclonic storm passed close to the Mumbai coast, civic officials said.

The highest wind speed of 108 km per hour was recorded at the Colaba observatory in the afternoon, said Shubhangi Bhute, senior director, IMD Mumbai.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray took stock of the situation in Mumbai, Thane and other coastal districts and assessed the damage caused by the cyclonic storm.

As Mumbai and other coastal areas continued to be battered with heavy rains, over 12,000 people 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. PTI KK KA PD PJT ENM MPB PR DSP ANB SMN GK NSK VT RSY RSY

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