A powerful cyclone that emerged in the Arabian Sea made landfall on India's western coast on Monday, hours after authorities evacuated hundreds of thousands of people and suspended COVID-19 vaccinations in one state, the AP reports. Cyclone Tauktae, the most powerful storm to hit the region in more than two decades, came ashore in Gujarat state with heavy rain, a battering storm surge and sustained winds of up to 103 miles per hour, the India Meteorological Department said. Forecasters warned of possible extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas. At least 16 people were reported dead so far, and hundreds of thousands were evacuated, a process complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. The Indian Navy was also working to rescue crew members from a sunken barge and a second cargo vessel that was adrift Tuesday, the AP reports.
The navy said it had rescued 177 people of the total 400 on the two barges in the Arabian Sea. Three frontline warships were part of the rescue operations and were scouring seas, the Navy said. Both barges are owned by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India. The massive storm came as India is battling a devastating coronavirus surge—and both the storm and the virus could exacerbate the effects of the other. The storm had already led to the suspension of some vaccination efforts and there is greater risk of virus transmission in crowded evacuation shelters. Virus lockdown measures, meanwhile, could slow relief work after the storm, and damage from the storm could destroy roads and cut vital supply lines for vaccines and medical supplies needed for virus patients. Damage from the storm is also likely to particularly hurt the poor, who are already stretched to the limit by the economic impact of the virus. (Read more India stories.)