Cyclone lashes India’s business capital; 100,000 evacuated

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A cyclone made landfall Wednesday south of India’s financial capital of Mumbai, with a storm surge threatening to flood beaches and low-lying slums as city authorities struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Live TV coverage showed inky black clouds framing the sea on India’s western coastline. Trees swayed wildly as rain pounded the coastal towns and villages of the central state of Maharashtra.

In the state capital, Mumbai home to Bollywood, India’s largest stock exchange and more than 18 million residents  high winds whipped skyscrapers and ripped apart shanty houses near the beach.

Mumbai hadn’t been hit by a cyclone in more than a century, raising concerns about its readiness.

Some 10,000 city-dwellers were evacuated from their homes, municipal officials said. With powerful storms a rarity, there were no preexisting cyclone shelters, and many of the city’s large and sturdy buildings had already been converted into COVID-19 isolation or treatment facilities, National Disaster Response Force spokesman Krishan Kumar said.

“We moved people to other strong buildings where there is a supply of water,” he said.

In the hours before the storm hit India’s shores, drivers and peddlers deserted Mumbai’s iconic Marine Drive, fishermen yanked their nets out of the wavy Arabian Sea and police shooed people away from beaches.

Homes in city slums were boarded up and abandoned, and municipal officials patrolled the streets, using bullhorns to order people to stay inside.

Cyclone Nisarga was forecast to drop heavy rains and sustained winds of 100 to 110 kilometers (62 to 68 miles) per hour through Wednesday afternoon after slamming ashore near the city of Alibag, about 98 kilometers (60 miles) south of Mumbai, India’s Meteorological Department said.

At Alibag, visuals shared on Twitter by India’s disaster agency showed toppled carts, roads scattered with fallen trees and tin roofs ripped apart.

The state of Goa, south of Maharashtra, already had received 127 millimeters (5 inches) of torrential rain — about a week’s average, the agency said.

Some 100,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas in Maharashtra and neighboring Gujarat, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. Both states, already among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, activated disaster response teams, fearing extensive flooding could further impair overwhelmed health systems.