NEW DELHI — A powerful cyclone barreled up the Arabian Sea on Wednesday, threatening the Indian commercial hub of Mumbai and the surrounding area with heavy flooding and 75 mile-an-hour winds.
Cyclone Nisarga was expected to make landfall with unusual force on Wednesday afternoon in the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, a city of about 20 million. The region rarely experiences cyclones, and the last storm to strike Mumbai with such intensity was more than 70 years ago.
Efforts to blunt the cyclone’s harm are likely to be hampered by the coronavirus. Mumbai, which sits on a narrow peninsula, is struggling to contain a rising number of infections, and more than 100 Covid-19 patients have been evacuated from a makeshift hospital to higher ground. The city is densely populated and low-lying, making it particularly vulnerable.
The cyclone is “more tragic news,” said Anil Parab, a minister with Maharashtra’s governing Shiv Sena party. “This will complicate our fight against coronavirus.”
South Asia has considerable experience preparing for cyclones, which are referred to as hurricanes in the Atlantic and the northeastern Pacific. Last month, about three million people were evacuated when another storm, Cyclone Amphan, struck eastern India and Bangladesh, killing more than 80 people.
As Cyclone Nisarga moved closer to India on Wednesday, Uddhav Thackeray, the chief minister of Maharashtra, ordered Mumbai’s residents to stay home for two days. Officials said they had evacuated up to 65,000 people from several coastal districts in the state.
In the neighboring state of Gujarat, which was also in the storm’s path, the authorities said they were evacuating tens of thousands of people from coastal areas and taking them to shelter homes.
In recent years, India has significantly improved its disaster response capabilities, drafting meticulous evacuation plans and building thousands of emergency shelters.
But many storm facilities have recently been converted into Covid-19 quarantine centers, stretching state resources thin, and Maharashtra and Gujarat are the Indian states hit hardest by the coronavirus.
When Sunil Deshpande, a fisherman in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, arrived at a shelter on Tuesday, government officials told people to maintain social distancing, but the building was so crowded that it was “nearly impossible,” he said.
“When we left home it was already raining,” he said. “The sea looked rough and angry.”