Cyclone Nisarga lashes India’s business capital

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Cyclone Nisarga was forecast to drop heavy rains and sustained winds of 100 to 110 kilometers per hour when it hit Mumbai. (AFP)
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India’s financial capital Mumbai, above, has not been hit by a cyclone in more than a century. (AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

Cyclone Nisarga lashes India’s business capital

  • Mumbai has not been hit by a cyclone in more than a century

MUMBAI, India: A cyclone made landfall Wednesday south of India’s financial capital of Mumbai, with storm surge threatening to flood beaches and low-lying slums as city authorities struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Live TV coverage showed inky black clouds framing the sea on India’s western coastline. Trees swayed wildly as rain pounded the coastal towns and villages of the central state of Maharashtra.
In the state capital Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, India’s largest stock exchange and more than 18 million residents, high winds whipped skyscrapers and ripped apart shanty houses near the beach.
Mumbai has not been hit by a cyclone in more than a century, raising concern about its readiness. In the hours before the storm hit India’s shores, drivers and peddlers deserted Mumbai’s iconic Marine Drive, fishermen yanked their nets out of the wavy Arabian Sea and police shooed people away from beaches.
As the cyclone wended its way up India’s western coast, homes in city slums were boarded up and abandoned, and municipal officials patrolled the streets, using bullhorns to order people to stay inside.
Cyclone Nisarga was forecast to drop heavy rains and sustained winds of 100 to 110 kilometers (62 to 68 miles) per hour through Wednesday afternoon after slamming ashore near the city of Alibag, about 98 kilometers (60 miles) south of Mumbai, India’s Meteorological Department said.
At Alibag, visuals shared by India’s Disaster Response Force on Twitter showed toppled carts, roads scattered with fallen trees and tin roofs ripped apart.
The state of Goa, south of Maharashtra, already received 127 millimeters of torrential rain — about a week’s average, the agency said.
Some 100,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas in Maharashtra and neighboring Gujarat, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. Both states, already among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, activated disaster response teams, fearing extensive flooding could further impair overwhelmed health systems.
“If hospitals and clinics are damaged by the cyclone, the city won’t be able to cope with the large number of COVID-19 cases, and social distancing measures will become virtually impossible to follow,” Bidisha Pillai, chief executive of Save the Children in India, said in a statement.
Some 200 COVID-19 patients in Mumbai were moved from a field hospital built beneath a tent to another facility to avoid the risk of strong wind gusts, officials said.
S.N. Pradhan, director of India’s National Disaster Response Force, said that evacuations were nearly complete and that social distancing norms were being followed in cyclone shelters.
“Let us fight this danger like we are standing up to the corona pandemic and are on our way to defeat it. Likewise, we will prevail over this situation too!” Maharashtra’s top official, Chief Minister Uddhav Balasheb Thackeray, tweeted.
The cyclone also threatened to worsen prospects for an economic turnaround as a 9-week-long coronavirus lockdown began to ease this week. India has reported more than 200,000 cases and 5,800 deaths due to the virus, and epidemiologists predict that the peak is still weeks away.
Maharashtra, which accounts for more than a third of India’s cases, has seen the rate of infection slow in recent days, beneath India’s national average.
Some special trains departing from Mumbai that for weeks have carried millions of economic migrants who lost their jobs in lockdown were rescheduled, and newly restored domestic airline travel postponed.
Nisarga comes just two weeks after Cyclone Amphan tore through the Bay of Bengal on India’s east coast and battered West Bengal state, killing more than 100 people in India and neighboring Bangladesh.
Such storms are less common in the Arabian Sea than on India’s east coast, usually form later in the year and do so over a longer period. But Nisarga may represent the ways in which the warming of oceans due to climate change is already altering lives, experts said.
The frequency of cyclones in the Arabian Sea is predicted to increase, said Adam Sobel, a climate scientist at Columbia University.
The temperature of the top layer of the sea, from which the cyclone draws its energy, is “unusually high,” said K.J. Ramesh, former chief of India’s Meteorological Department. Much more frequent and intense cyclones have been appearing over a shorter time in recent years due to climate change, he said.
“Forecasting such storms becomes a challenge,” he said.


France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

Updated 03 December 2020

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected were found to promote extremism they would be closed down
  • Inspections are part of France’s response to two attacks — the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people in a Nice church

PARIS: French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting Thursday as part of a crackdown on extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Darmanin told RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected was found to promote extremism they would be closed down.

The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.

Darmanin did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.

On Twitter Wednesday he said the mosques were suspected of “separatism” — a term President Emmanuel Macron has used to describe ultraconservative Muslims closing themselves off from French society by, for example, enrolling their children in underground schools or forcing young girls to wear the Muslim headscarf.

The rightwing minister told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalization.”

“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalization),” he said.
The killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a class on free speech, at a school outside Paris sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.

In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of associations, sports groups and charities suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a large mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin that had shared a vitriolic video lambasting Paty.

The government has also announced plans to step up the deportations of illegal migrants on radicalization watchlists.
Darmanin said that 66 of 231 foreigners on a watchlist had been expelled, around 50 others had been put in migrant detention centers and a further 30 had been placed under house arrest.

The minister announced the latest clampdown after receiving fierce criticism for pushing a bill that would make it harder to document police brutality.

Images of officers beating up black music producer Michel Zecler in his studio brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets last weekend against Darmanin’s push to restrict the filming of the police in the new bill.
MPs from Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party have since announced plans to rewrite the legislation.