Maharashtra, the epicentre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, was on Monday facing a new threat in the form of a fast-moving depression in the Arabian Sea, which is predicted to intensify into a severe cyclone named ‘Nisarga’ and make landfall by Wednesday evening.
Nisarga’s impact is likely to be felt most strongly in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar and Raigad districts, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD).
The IMD’s 8.30 pm bulletin said the depression lay about 310 km southwest of Panjim, 570 km south-southwest of Mumbai and 800 km south-southwest of Surat. It is expected to land anywhere between Harihareshwar, south of Mumbai in Raigad district, and Daman, located on the southern edge of Gujarat, on the afternoon or evening of Wednesday.
“As per the trajectory of the system, it’s expected to make the landfall somewhere near south of Mumbai. But it is a dynamic system and is subject to change in the next 24 to 48 hours. Mumbai is in the trajectory and will feel the adverse impact of the (developing) cyclone. We’re closely monitoring the movement of the system (currently a depression),” said Sunitha Devi, a scientist at Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre, Delhi.
With the impact of the cyclone likely to be felt in Maharashtra as well as Gujarat, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a video conference with the chief ministers of both the states in the evening.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said an alert has been sounded in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. “Authorities have been instructed to shift the people who are residing in kuccha houses to safer locations,” he said at the meeting with Shah, according to a statement released by the Chief Minister’s Office.
It added that Udddhav also told Shah that instructions have been issued to shift the people from slums, especially those residing in low-lying areas, in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), to safer locations. “I have also asked authorities to see how Covid-19 patients can be shifted from the temporary hospitals,” he said.
There is concern about the impact of the cyclonic storm on the battle against Covid-19, as the rain and flooding may set back social distancing and other necessary measures at evacuation centres, and even at some Covid-19 facilities located in low-lying areas. Even a normal monsoon in Mumbai annually ends up claiming many lives and destroys homes through disasters such as landslides, house and building collapses, drownings and electrocutions, apart from the illnesses that spread due to waterlogging and flooding.
On Monday, as the storm gathered strength, Municipal Commissioner I S Chahal said that the civic body in Mumbai is ready to tackle any emergency. “We have instructed all assistant municipal commissioners to make arrangements of shelters in their wards for people living in low-lying areas. In case of flooding and lanslides, residents will be moved to safe places or the nearest municipal schools. We have appealed to the residents to stay in home when the cyclone will hit the city,” Chahal said in a statement released the BMC. The civic body asked all hospitals to keep generators on standby to tackle possible electricity disruptions.
For Mumbai’s only makeshift Covid Care Centre at MMRDA grounds in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) – a low-lying area – officials said BMC had installed additional dewatering pumping stations to drain out access water. The BMC has put dewatering pumps on standby at other several low-lying and waterlogging spots as well.
Assistant Municipal Commissioner of L (Kurla) ward, Manish Valunje, said: “Also, the silts removed from nullahs will be moved to designated dumping sites so that in case of rain, it does not enter the mullahs again. Municipal schools have been kept ready as shelter homes.”
Principal Secretary (Relief and Rehabilitation) Kishorraje Nimbalkar said that authorities in MMR, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts will shift people to safer locations if required. “People from kuccha houses or those likely to be affected will be shifted to government schools or other such buildings. A decision will be taken on Tuesday morning after assessing how the cyclone has developed,” he added.
He further said: “If required, patients from temporary Covid-19 hospitals in Mumbai, such as at BKC, will be shifted to other hospitals.”
District administrations of Thane, Palghar and Raigad have started dentifying structures into which people could be evacuated. An official from Palghar said, “We have alerted fishermen to not go near the sea and also mapped out rescue plans for those living in low-lying areas.”
Teams from National Disaster Response Force have been deployed in all coastal districts and are on standby in Mumbai.
Sandeep Malvi, Thane Municipal Corpoation PRO, said, “There are some creeks within our jurisdiction and we have already put out warnings asking people to stay away.”
Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation commissioner Chandrakant Dange said, “Majority of the structures along the creeks like in Uttan, which are under our jurisdiction, are pucca structures. We have still asked fishermen to steer clear of the creek.”
The depression developed over the south-east and adjoining east-central Arabian Sea and Lakshadweep areas would develop into a cyclonic storm as it moved closer to the Maharashtra coast, the IMD said. The storm is expected to become a deep depression on Monday night before intensifying into a cyclonic storm early Tuesday, and into a severe cyclonic storm by Tuesday night. The intensity of rainfall in all the four districts of Maharashtra will increase from June 2. Wind speed is expected to range from 105 to 115 kmph, gusting to 125 kmph around landfall, the bulletin added.
“It can inundate the low-lying areas, especially in Mumbai and its adjoining areas, and can cause severe structural damages. We’re advising fishermen in Maharashtra, Kerala, coastal Karnataka, Gujarat, Goa, and Lakshadweep to avoid venturing out to the sea till June 4. Those out should return immediately, as the sea can be very rough for the next three days,” said Dr Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General, IMD, at a press briefing.
“We can expect very heavy to extremely heavy rains (more than 20 cm) at isolated places in all these districts of Maharashtra. Inundation is also expected in low-lying areas,” he added.