14 die as barge sinks after powerful cyclone batters India's west coast

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) – Fourteen people have died as a barge sank off India’s west coast after a powerful cyclone barrelled into the country, the authorities said on Wednesday (May 19), while Indian navy ships and aircraft scoured waters to locate scores of other missing people.

“We can confirm that 14 bodies have been recovered from the rescue operation of barge P305” that sank off the coast of Mumbai, Western Naval Command chief public relations officer Mehul Karnik told Reuters.

Indian navy ships and aircraft have been scouring the waters off the country’s financial capital since Monday when the barge and some other vessels went adrift due to the cyclone.

Driving waves of up to 27.2m on the high seas, Cyclone Tauktae rammed into the western states of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, and Gujarat over the past two days, killing at least 61 people and leaving a trail of destruction, the authorities said.

The storm smashed into the Bombay High oilfield near Mumbai, where India’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located, and sank the barge that had 261 people on board.

The navy said more than 180 people had been rescued from the barge, which was engaged in contract work awarded by Oil and Natural Gas, India’s top exploration company.

Three ships and aircraft are continuing to look for the remaining people, it added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to conduct an aerial survey of the storm-hit areas in his home state Gujarat later in the day, the state government said.

Cyclone Tauktae made landfall in Gujarat late on Monday packing gusts of up to 210kmh.

It has piled pressure on the Indian authorities as they grapple with a massive spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths, as well as a shortage of beds and oxygen in hospitals.

In Gujarat, among the hardest-hit states by the second wave of the virus, the cyclone has ripped out power pylons, damaged some 16,500 homes and blocked more than 600 roads, the authorities said.

The state’s farm sector is also likely to have taken a hit, including the major mango growing belt of Saurashtra.

Officials said work to restore electricity supply and clear roads was ongoing, but some parts were still cut off.

“Mobile phone networks are still down in many areas, and I don’t think they will be restored by today,” Mr Aayush Oak, the top official in Gujarat’s Amreli district, told Reuters.

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