Mumbai was spared major damage from cyclone Nisarga on Wednesday after the severe storm changed direction slightly and made a landfall near Alibaug, about 110 km from the city, in a huge relief to the country's financial centre already reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police and civic officials said three people died--two in Pune and one in Raigad district--in cyclone-related incidents as the storm slammed the coastal districts of Maharashtra from Arabian sea with wind speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour(kmph) in the afternoon.
Mumbai remained on edge as it braced for the cyclone after a gap of 72 years.
Nisarga had weakened into a 'cyclonic storm' in the evening and by night further weakened into a deep depression and now lay over north-central Maharashtra, said the latest bulletin by the India Meteorological Department(IMD).
The wind speed has reduced considerably to 25 kmph, it said.
The neighbouring coastal districts of Raigad and Palghar bore the brunt of the storm experiencing strong winds, heavy rainfall and raging sea surge.
Tidal waves measuring up to 6-8 feet lashed parts of the coastal areas.
Tin roofs erected on the terraces of residential apartments flew away in some places and several trees and electricity poles were also uprooted.
Mumbaikars heaved a sigh of relief as the cyclone's damage appeared limited to uprooting of trees in some areas that led to vehicles being crushed. However, no major damage was reported till the night.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the resilience showed by people and officials helped in 'mitigating the intensity' of the cyclone.
'Thanking all who protected Maharashtra along with Mumbai in the face of the Nisarga cyclone which had hovered over Maharashtra at a time when the state is already grappling with COVID-19.
'But we all warded it (the cyclone crisis) off. The people and administration fought hard and mitigated the intensity of the crisis,' the chief minister said in a statement.
Cyclone Nisarga made landfall at 12.30 pm at Alibaug and the process was completed by 2.30 pm, a senior IMD official said.
Nisarga means nature and the name was coined by by Bangladesh.
Ahead of Nisarga's landfall, thousands of people in its path were evacuated, trains rescheduled, flights cancelled, fishermen ordered out of the seas and rescue workers were put on standby.
As the cyclone weakened into a depression, it was clear that the extent of damage was far lesser than anticipated.
The threat posed by Nisarga to Mumbai has lessened, Maharashtra Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat had said, as the city was already down on its knees from the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
'Though the threat posed to Mumbai by the cyclone has reduced, the next few hours will be quite crucial. The cyclone can have influence over an average of 200 km from its eye,' Thorat had tweeted after the cyclone made the landfall.
Mumbai on Wednesday reported 1,276 new COVID-19 cases and 49 deaths, taking the case count to 43,262 and the number of fatalities to 1,417, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said.
'It(Nisarga) made the landfall just north of the historic Murud-Janjira town.
'A slight change of direction towards North Eastwards meant, the impact of the cyclone on Mumbai was less severe than originally expected,' the Ministry of Earth Sciences said in a statement.
The statement said Alibaug witnessed wind speeds of 120-130 kmph.
Power utilities had shut down electricity supply in some parts of Ratnagiri district as a preventive measure while mobile services were affected in parts of Raigad district.
Alibagh recorded a rainfall of 45 mm and Ratnagiri 38 mm (till 4 pm).
According to Anupam Srivastava, Commander, National Disaster Response Force, a number of trees have fallen in several areas in the coastal dsitricts.
IMAGE: Airplanes parked the airport in Mumbai, on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo
He said trees fell on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway too, but the traffic flow was not affected.
As a precautionary measure flight operations remained suspended at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Mumbai International Airport for a few hours in the afternoon.
During the day, a cargo aircraft belonging to FedEx overshot the main runway of the Mumbai airport on its arrival from Bengaluru, Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) said in a statement.
The aircraft was towed away from the runway and there has been no disruption in flight operations, it said.
Four long distance trains on the Konkan Railway route connecting Kerala with Mumbai and New Delhi were re-routed via Madgaon - Belgavi – Miraj of the South Western Railway.
Central and state authorities had taken necessary precautions to restrict the damage by Cyclone.
The NDRF had deployed 43 teams in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Nitesh Rane tweeted videos purportedly showing damage caused to a makeshift COVID-19 hospital in Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) area in Mumbai but the authorities said the structure was intact.
Built by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the 1,000-bed hospital in BKC is run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
Some 250 coronavirus patients who are undergoing treatment there were temporarily shifted to other facilities as a precaution in view of the cyclone threat on Tuesday.
The MMRDA, however, claimed there was no damage to the hospital, and it has resumed the construction work of second facility as well.
'After #CycloneNisarg, work restarts for second Covid facility at BKC. Nothing happened to Covid hospital 1 and 2 during Cyclone though as a matter of abundant precaution, patients were shifted,' the MMRDA tweeted.
Maharashtra and Gujarat had activated their disaster response mechanism, deploying NDRF teams and evacuating people from areas in the cyclone's path.
All fishing boats which were out in the sea off Palghar coast in Maharashtra returned before the landfall, an official said.
As many as 577 fishing boats from Palghar had gone out in the sea and till Monday evening, 564 came back.
Later, the help of the Coast Guard, Navy and the fisheries department was sought and the remaining 13 boats also returned to the shore late Tuesday evening.
Ahead of the cyclone, carnivorous animals in Mumbai zoo were shifted to holding areas in their enclosures to keep them safe from rain and strong winds, an official said.
Since the city has been experiencing rain, authorities at the Veermata Jijabai Udyan, also popularly known as Byculla Zoo which is spread over an area of 50 acres, took all steps to protect the animals against the rough weather, he said.
Tigers, leopards and hyenas were shifted to holding areas, a BMC official said.