Mumbai appeared to escape the worst of Cyclone Nisarga on Wednesday as the first severe storm to have threatened India’s financial capital in more than 70 years left it largely unscathed after ripping roofs off homes in a nearby coastal town.
Mumbai and the surrounding area are usually sheltered from cyclones – the last deadly storm to hit the city was in 1948 – but authorities evacuated at least 100,000 people, including coronavirus patients, from flood-prone areas in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The storm made landfall on Wednesday afternoon near the coastal town of Alibaug, about 30 miles south of Mumbai. It then crossed Maharashtra’s coast, veering to the east of Mumbai. Meteorologists said its power was expected to weaken by Wednesday night.
The cyclone brought heavy rain and winds of 60-70mph, with gusts of up to 75mph. There were downpours in Mumbai throughout the afternoon, and the wind toppled some trees.
The beach town of Alibaug, a weekend getaway destination for Mumbai’s celebrities and tycoons, suffered worse damage as the cyclone tore roofs off homes and overturning mobile food stalls. Luxurious villas set amid coconut groves on the beach took a battering.
Mumbai is more used to dealing with winds of 20-25mph, and the fear remained that some of its older, more dilapidated buildings, electric poles, shanty towns and slums would not withstand the gusts.
The city is already overwhelmed by the Covid-19 epidemic. Hospitals are overcrowded. Any new coronavirus ward opened in the morning is filled with patients by evening. The city has the highest number of coronavirus cases in India, at 42,000 infections.
Among the more than 40,000 residents who were evacuated were Covid-19 patients who had been put up in a temporary hospital erected a few weeks ago.
Nisarga was also expected to hit the neighbouring state of Gujarat, and nearly 79,000 people were due to be evacuated from coastal regions by Wednesday morning. Gujarat’ relief commissioner, Harshad Patel, said 18 districts across the state would experience heavy rainfall and strong winds.
Arpit Sagar, an official in Valsad, said: “In wake of the coronavirus outbreak all standard operating procedures are being followed at the temporary shelters which have been sanitised and instructions have been issued on following safe distancing.”
Nisarga comes on the heels of Cyclone Amphan, which killed more than 100 people when it hit eastern India and Bangladesh in May, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without electricity.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report