Powerful cyclone hits land in India amid deadly virus surge

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Fishermen try to move a fishing boat to a safer ground on the Arabian Sea coast in Mumbai, India, Monday, May 17, 2021. Cyclone Tauktae, roaring in the Arabian Sea was moving toward India's western coast on Monday as authorities tried to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and suspended COVID-19 vaccinations in one state. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

NEW DELHI – 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.

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 165 kilometers (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.

Twelve people were reported dead before the storm hit land and hundreds of thousands were evacuated, a process complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

In Gujarat, vaccinations were suspended for two days and authorities worked to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to temporary relief shelters. The state’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, asked officials to ensure that oxygen supplies for hospitals are not disrupted.

In Maharashtra, six people were killed, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The state's capital, Mumbai, was lashed by heavy rain and strong winds, forcing authorities to suspend operations at the city’s main airport.

Fishing boats off the coast in both states returned to harbor and thousands of rescue and relief teams, along with ships and aircraft, were deployed for recovery operations.