With cyclone 'Nisarga' set to make landfall on Wednesday, Maharashtra and Gujarat activated their disaster response mechanism, deploying National Disaster Response Force teams and evacuating people from areas likely to be hit.
The two western states, already battling a raging pandemic, which has put their health infrastructure under severe strain, opened new fronts to tackle the fallout of the storm which is expected to make a landfall close to Mumbai on Wednesday.
As Maharashtra and Gujarat -- likely to be impacted the most -- braced for the cyclone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to their chief ministers and assured them all possible help from the Centre.
Cyclone 'Nisarga' is very likely to intensify into a 'severe cyclonic storm' over the next 12 hours and cross Maharashtra and South Gujarat coast on Wednesday afternoon, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Tuesday.
'Cyclonic Storm NISARGA over Arabian Sea. Very likely to intensify into a Severe Cyclonic Storm next 12 hrs,' tweeted deputy director general of meteorology K S Hosalikar, IMD, Mumbai, on Tuesday afternoon.
'To cross N Mah & adjoining S Guj coast betn Harihareshwar & Daman, close to Alibag (Raigad) a/n 03rd Jun as a SCS with a max sustained wind 100-110 gusting to 120 kmph,' he added.
As Maharashtra and Gujarat braced for the cyclone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to their chief ministers and assured them all possible help from the Centre.
10 teams of the NDRF have been deployed in parts of Maharashtra for rescue operations in view of the cyclonic storm, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said.
'Out of the 16 NDRF units, 10 have been deployed for rescue operation during the cyclone, and 6 SDRF units are in reserve,' the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) said in a graphic shared on Twitter.
It said precautions will be taken during the relief and rehabilitation works, considering prevalence of COVID-19 in the state.
Elaborating on the government's preparedness for the approaching cyclonic storm, the CMO tweeted that an alert has been issued for Mumbai city and suburbs, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts.
Meanwhile, Thackeray's office said those staying in 'kuccha' houses are being moved to safer places.
'Slum-dwellers in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, particularly those living in low-lying areas, have been instructed to evacuate,' it said.
The CMO said non-COVID hospitals are being made available to deal with any medical emergency.
The state government is also taking measures to prevent power outages and precautions in chemical industries and the nuclear power plant in Palghar and Raigad districts, it said.
Town planning authority MMRDA on Tuesday said that nearly 150 patients at its COVID facility in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai have been shifted to another location as a precaution in the wake of the cyclone.
'The impending threat of Nisarga Cyclone is upon Mumbai. Although the COVID-19 hospital can sustain strong winds of up to 80-100 km per hour, however, with human lives at stake, as a precautionary measure, all the patients (about 150) from the hospital are being shifted by BMC,' the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) said in a tweet.
The MMRDA has set up a 1,008-bed facility, where nearly 150 patients are taking treatment.
The Western Naval Command has put its teams on alert and is ready to respond to the cyclone, a defence spokesperson said.
The Navy has has kept five flood teams and three diving teams on stand-by in Mumbai, the official said.
These teams, trained and equipped for rescue operations, are stationed at various naval areas across Mumbai and can provide early response over a larger area, he said.
A recce of known flood-prone areas has been undertaken and all necessary preparations are in place.
Similar arrangements have been set up within the Karwar Naval Area, Goa Naval Area as well as Gujarat Daman and Diu Naval Areas, he said.
Raigad district collector and superintendent of police visited villages situated along the coastlines of Alibaug, Murud, Shrivardhan, Mhasala and Nagaon Revas areas, which are likely to be affected by the cyclone, an official said.
"We have evacuated more than 3,500 people from koliwadas (fishermen colonies) and temporary houses to safer structures like schools, community halls and government buildings," superintendent of police Raigad, Anil Paraskar said.
The police have also requested people to stay indoors and not venture out near the coast, he said, adding that people have been assured of all possible help from the authorities during this time.
Private and public sector establishments including RCF, GAIL and JSW have also been asked to take precautions, the official said.
At least four teams of the NDRF have been deployed at Alibaug, Shrivardhan among other areas to tackle any emergency situation, Paraskar said.
Similar measures are being taken by the police and administrations in Mumbai, Thane and Palghar districts, an official from Konkan Divisional Commissionerate office said.
In Gujarat, the administration has started evacuating over 78,000 people from four districts close to the coastline, officials said on Tuesday
13 teams of the NDRF and six of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) have been deployed at different locations, Relief Commissioner Harshad Patel told reporters in Gandhinagar.
As many as 78,971 persons living near the seashore in Valsad, Surat, Navsari and Bharuch districts are being shifted to safer locations, he said.
Patel said the administration has identified 140 buildings which will be utilised as temporary shelters for the evacuees in these four districts.
"In view of the coronavirus pandemic, rescue teams have been given PPE kits and asked to take precautionary measures at the shelters, such as maintaining social distancing and providing masks to the evacuees," said Patel.
In a relief to people living near the shore, the IMD indicated the cyclone may not make a landfall on the Gujarat coast.
However, it will have an impact in the form of gusty winds coupled with heavy rainfall in the coastal belt, Gujarat's MeT centre director Jayanta Sarkar said.
"As per the present predictions, the cyclone will make a landfall near Alibaug (near Mumbai). Though the cyclone will not cross south Gujarat, it will leave its impact in the form of gusty winds and heavy rainfall," said Sarkar.
Mumbai hasn't 'experienced a serious cyclone landfall since 1891', according to Adam Sobel, professor of atmospheric science at Columbia University.
Mumbai experienced severe floods in 2005, and more recently in 2017 and 2019, but none of them were due to cyclones.
All that could change on Wednesday when a severe cyclonic storm with wind speeds from 100 to 120 kmph could hit the city and India's western coast.
The IMD is predicting heavy rainfall, squally winds, very rough seas and storm surges inundating low lying areas of the city.