NEW DELHI: A severe cyclone hit India’s commercial hub Mumbai on Wednesday, bringing the city to a standstill with transport and flights suspended for several hours, and more than 50,000 people evacuated from low-lying coastal areas of the city.
Earlier, experts described cyclone Nisarga as the first severe storm to threaten India’s financial capital in more than 70 years.
Fearing the worst, residents took precautions early on.
“Last night we were asked to move to a nearby school away from the sea because of the cyclone,” a Mumbai-based fisherman told Arab News.
The cyclone came at a time when the western state of Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai, is in the grip of the coronavirus outbreak. The state accounts for more than 70,000 COVID-19 cases out of India’s total of 201,000.
It was a challenge for municipal authorities to safeguard and move thousands of people to temporary accommodation and maintain social distancing restrictions.
“We are alert to the coronavirus crisis and decided to test every evacuee,” Milind Dilip Kumar, deputy spokesperson for the Greater Mumbai corporation, told Arab News.
Authorities also moved a temporary quarantine center to a safer location to protect people from the cyclone.
“Around 220 people were living in a makeshift quarantine center in the Worli Kurla area of the city, and since it was closer to sea we decided to shift them to a safer location,” Kumar added.
Meanwhile, cyclone Nisarga, which was supposed to hit the capital and adjoining area with “unusual force,” changed its direction, saving the city from havoc.
“The cyclone has weakened and skirted the city. There would be only mild wind and some rain," K. J. Ramesh, director general of the Indian meteorological department, told Arab News.
Mumbai, home to 20 million people, is one of the worst coronavirus-affected cities in India with more than 1,000 recorded deaths.
Medical professionals say that, had the cyclone hit with full impact, it would have been a "double whammy.”
“The city was already overstretched with most government hospitals already in bad shape because of the overflowing COVID-19 cases. Had the cyclone created havoc the city could not have coped with this extra burden,” a medical professional working with a government hospital in Mumbai told Arab News.
Mumbai resident Madhu Nainan feels a sense of relief that the cyclone missed the city.
“The city was already besieged by a crisis, and if the cyclone had created the same kind of damage as the cyclone Amphan did in (the eastern Indian state) of Bengal a couple of weeks ago, it would have been a double whammy for Mumbai,” Nainan told Arab News.