India cyclone death toll rises to 84 as navy searches for dozens missing

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Indian PM Modi announced financial aid for the state as well as for the families of the victims and those injured

The death toll from a major cyclone that slammed into coronavirus-ravaged India jumped to at least 84 yesterday, as the navy searched for 65 people still missing and authorities scrambled to restore power to the worst-hit regions.

Cyclone Tauktae, which pummelled the western coast late Monday and left a trail of destruction, has added to the country’s woes as it suffered a record number of Covid-19 deaths.

The cyclonic storm was the latest in what experts say is a growing number of ever-bigger storms in the Arabian Sea because of climate change warming its waters.

The defence ministry said yesterday that Navy ships had rescued more than 600 people after waves up to 26 feet high hammered offshore oil installations.

But 22 bodies were also recovered while planes and helicopters were still searching for 65 workers missing from one of several support vessels that slipped its moorings in the storm and sank.

MK Jha, head of the Naval Western Command, said that the sea was so rough that they could not board life rafts.

Those rescued have “hope in their eyes but certainly, they are distressed… they have been battered by the sea conditions for multiple hours,” Jha told the NDTV news channel.

Even before the cyclone made landfall in Gujarat state with gusts up to 185 kilometres per hour, associated heavy rains and strong winds killed around 20 people in western and southern India.

Gujarat officials said yesterday that the death toll in the state after the storm had risen to 42, with many killed by collapsing houses or walls and more fatalities expected as they accessed the scale of the damage.

Those killed included a child crushed by a collapsing wall, an 80-year-old woman killed by a falling pole and a teenage girl by a crumbling roof.

“I have never experienced such intensity in my life,” said a hotel owner in the town of Bhavnagar where the winds smashed windows on the seafront and sent trees and power lines toppling.

More than 16,500 houses were damaged, 40,000 trees were uprooted and engineers were working to restore power to hundreds of thousands of people yesterday.

More than 15% of the total yearly production of salt in Gujarat – India’s biggest producer of the mineral – was either washed away or unable to be harvested due to flooding, the Indian Salt Manufacturers Association told AFP.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after a survey of the damage in Gujarat, his home state, that his government was “working closely with all the states affected by the cyclone.”

He announced financial aid for the state as well as for the families of the victims and those injured.

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