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Cyclone Hits India On Deadliest Day Of Pandemic

A police officer helps a public transport driver cross a flooded street caused by heavy rain from Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai.
Ashish Vaishnav
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A police officer helps a public transport driver cross a flooded street caused by heavy rain from Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai.

MUMBAI — India can't catch a break.

On the same day the country confirmed its highest-ever daily death toll from COVID-19, it was also hit by a deadly storm. Cyclone Tauktae barreled into India's west coast overnight packing wind gusts of up to 130 miles per hour — some of the strongest on record — before weakening over land later Tuesday.

Crews in orange hazmat suits patrolled coastal areas with megaphones, urging hundreds of thousands of residents to move to higher ground. More than 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the western state of Gujarat. Hundreds of COVID-19 patients were also shifted from coastal wards in Mumbai to other hospitals farther inland.

Cyclones are more common on India's east coast over the Bay of Bengal. But forecasters say climate patterns are changing, and this one hit several states on India's west coast along the Arabian Sea: Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat. It was the fiercest storm to hit that region in decades.

At least 16 people were killed by flying debris, building collapses and flooding. A search and rescue operation is underway for dozens of barge workers missing off Mumbai's coast.

At least 177 workers have been rescued by Indian navy helicopters in "extremely challenging circumstances," the navy tweeted.

Coastal slums are flooded, and electricity lines down. Relief efforts have been complicated by coronavirus lockdowns.

"You have to evacuate [people] in a certain way because you do not want COVID infections on your hands post-cyclone," India's disaster relief chief, Satya Pradhan, told local media.

One of the biggest concerns remains ensuring a constant electricity supply to COVID-19 hospitals and industrial plants generating and bottling medical oxygen.

Tauktae weakened into a "severe cyclonic storm" on Tuesday afternoon, India's Meteorological Department tweeted.

Also Tuesday, India's Health confirmed 4,329 deaths from COVID-19 — the country's deadliest single-day toll since the pandemic began. It also confirmed 263,533 new coronavirus cases, down from more than 400,000 a day earlier this month.

Scientists say that those tallies are likely vast undercounts and that it's unclear when India's wave may peak because testing is so low in rural areas.

NPR producer Sushmita Pathak contributed to this report from Hyderabad, India.

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Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.