19 people killed, 96 onboard barge still missing as cyclone Tauktae batters India’s western coast

At least 19 people were killed and many others injured in several states across the western coast of India due to the impact of cyclone Tauktae, local media reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy was launching a search operation to trace the 96 missing people who were onboard barge P305 that first went adrift and subsequently sank at an offshore oilfield in Mumbai on Tuesday morning.

According to reports, 12 people died in Maharashtra and Karnataka states, three in Gujarat state, two each in Goa and Kerala states were killed.

The cyclone Tauktae made landfall at 8:30 p.m. local time on Monday in India’s western Gujarat state with wind speeding gusting 190 km per hour, damaging houses and trees, and forcing people to flee.

The cyclone, at its peak, classified as “extremely severe” barreled along India’s western coast, narrowly missing the country’s financial capital city of Mumbai.

Authorities have evacuated many people from the affected areas.

A Navy spokesperson said 177 people had been rescued as the search and rescue operation was undergoing in extremely challenging circumstances.

Reports said 273 people were onboard the P305 barge in Mumbai high and 96 were still missing.

Mumbai high is an offshore oilfield 176 km off the west coast of Mumbai in the Gulf of Cambay of India. The barge went adrift hours before the cyclonic storm with winds gusting up to 185 km per hour made landfall on the Gujarat coast.

Officials said the storm slammed Gujarat, damaging 16,500 houses and uprooting 40,000 trees. Over 200,000 people had been evacuated in advance, but tens of thousands more were forced to flee from coastal villages to escape the cyclone’s fury.

Though Maharashtra state escaped the worst, Mumbai, capital of the coastal state, was lashed with 115 km per hour winds, forcing authorities to shut the airport and the iconic Bandra-Worli sea link for hours. Reports said heavy downpour in the city caused waterlogging in several areas across the city and halted traffic movement. TV images from the city showed waves from sea crashing into the culverts.

Tauktae hit Karnataka’s coast and other regions, affecting 121 villages and damaged 333 houses, 104 boats, besides uprooting trees and electricity poles.

Authorities had already asked thousands of fishing boats to return to the harbor, and ordered hundreds of merchant ships to re-route. It had deployed teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) as well as contingents of Indian army, navy and coast guard to carry out rescue work.

The cyclone came at a time when India is struggling to contain the second wave of COVID-19 that has overwhelmed hospitals across the country.

The health ministry said on Tuesday morning that 263,533 new cases and 4,329 related deaths were registered in the past 24 hours in India.

Top scientific adviser to the Indian government K Vijay Raghavan recently warned the country of a third wave of the ongoing pandemic.