MUMBAI: The Indian Navy mounted a massive air and sea rescue mission on Tuesday (May 18) for 81 missing oil workers and crew whose barge sank in heavy seas following a powerful cyclone that tore up the west coast of the country a day earlier.
The vessel was carrying 273 people when it started drifting on Monday. Around 180 of those on board the barge were rescued from the water as it sank off Mumbai.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated while authorities in Mumbai shifted about 600 COVID-19 patients in field hospitals "to safer locations".
Indian daily the Tribune described the vessel as a barge used for engineering and cargo purposes.
Efforts had started to move crew stuck on a second barge that was driven aground by the storm, the navy said.
"There are waves of 20 to 25 feet, the winds are high and the visibility is low," said navy spokesman Vivek Madhwal. "Ships and have aircraft have been deployed for the search and rescue mission."
Cyclone Tauktae, the most powerful storm to batter the west coast in two decades, ripped out power pylons, trees and caused house collapses killing at least 19 people, authorities said.
The storm made landfall in Gujarat state, piling up the pressure at a time when India is grappling with a staggering spike in coronavirus cases and deaths as well as a shortage of beds and oxygen in hospitals.
The colossal cyclone claimed lives in Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat as savage winds swept through flimsy homes and uprooted trees and electricity pylons.