Mumbai streets deserted as India's biggest city braces for cyclone

Mumbai streets deserted as India's biggest city braces for cyclone

Lifeguard walks along the shore off the Arabian Sea before cyclone Nisarga makes its landfall, in M
A lifeguard walks along the shore off the Arabian Sea before cyclone Nisarga makes its landfall, in Mumbai, India, Jun 2, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas)

MUMBAI: Bracing for the first ever cyclone to hit Mumbai in living memory, people in India's most populous metropolis stayed off the streets and scrambled to protect their homes before the torrential rains and gale-force winds struck.

Authorities ordered offices and factories to shut and people to stay home on Wednesday (Jun 3), reversing a move to ease a months-long lockdown as the city of 18 million people faced its first cyclone in more than 70 years.

Mumbai police announced fresh restrictions and banned gatherings of four people or more until Thursday afternoon.

Cyclone Nisarga was expected to make landfall near the coastal town of Alibag, around 100km south of Mumbai, on Wednesday afternoon, forecasters said.

They predicted winds gusting up to 120kmh, the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane, making landfall between on the coastal border region of Maharashtra and Gujarat states.

Authorities were working until late in the night on Tuesday to move thousands of people away from the coast, amid fears that a city already ravaged by COVID-19 infections could see its healthcare system further overwhelmed.

"We have seen rains, but we have never seen a cyclone in the city. We don't know what damage it will do," Shantaram Terekar, who lives in a one-room hutment in the city told Reuters.

Terekar said he had switched off electricity and put some tarpaulin to secure his thin metal roof.

Mumbai is bracing for its first cyclone in more than 70 years
Mumbai is bracing for its first cyclone in more than 70 years AFP/Punit PARANJPE

Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, and neighbouring Gujarat have evacuated at least 100,000 people to safer locations and ordered fishermen not to go out until the storm passes.

The evacuees include nearly 150 coronavirus patients from a recently built field hospital in Mumbai, underscoring the difficulties facing the city ahead of the monsoon season as it struggles to contain the pandemic, with around a fifth of India's cases.

READ: As Asia's tropical storm season arrives, grounded airplanes at risk of damage

Inter-state railway services were also disrupted with delays and diversions to ensure that trains would not travel through Mumbai until the cyclone had passed.

Mumbai airport is operating only 19 flights on Wednesday against 50 allowed to operate, the airport said.

Mumbai's emergency services are already struggling with the nation's largest outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Roads were deserted and police were advising people to stay indoors in the financial capital and surrounding areas that have nearly 55,000 cases of COVID-19, with more than 1,600 deaths.

"Refrain from venturing out to coast-beaches, promenade, parks and other similar places along the coastline," the police tweeted early Wednesday.

"Do not leave your house for your own safety and well-being," Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray tweeted late Tuesday, warning of possible disruptions to the power supply due to heavy rainfall.

"Offices, industries and other activities, which have started functioning, will be shut tomorrow and day after," he added.

India's largest container port, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), on the outskirts of Mumbai, was also ordered to shut for 24 hours, the port said in a statement.

READ: UN agency recommends health guidelines for airlines

Slum-dwellers in low-lying areas of Mumbai have been instructed to move to higher ground, Thackeray said earlier on Tuesday, with city authorities turning empty schools into temporary shelters.

Mumbai has rarely faced the brunt of cyclones - the last severe storm to hit the city struck in 1948, killing 12 people and injuring more than 100.

But every year during torrential rains of the June-September monsoon season roads are submerged, and the suburban railway service that serves millions of people comes to a halt.

Nisarga comes on the heels of Cyclone Amphan, which killed more than 100 people as it ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh last month, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without electricity.

Source: Agencies/ad/jt