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Hopes fading for 38 missing in India after cyclone sinks barge

Indian navy ships have worked through the night to recover the bodies of 37 people on board a barge that sank off Mumbai as a powerful storm lashed the region this week, an official said, as hopes faded for 38 people still missing since the cyclone struck on Monday.

Navy spokesman Mehul Karnik said on Thursday that five ships, a surveillance plane and three helicopters were involved in the search. He said most of 188 survivors and the 37 bodies arrived in Mumbai, The Associated Press reported.

The barge, with more than 260 people on board, sank after the storm caused by Cyclone Tauktae smashed into the Bombay High oilfield near Mumbai, where India’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located.

Indrajeet Singh, a survivor, recalled that everyone on the barge rushed to the deck sensing danger. Water gushed into the vessel and it started listing, The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted him as saying.

“I had no other option except jumping into the sea to save my life,’’ he said.

The survivors bobbed up and down in life jackets for up to eight hours before they were picked up by the rescuers, he said.

People who were stranded at sea on board the barge due to Cyclone Tauktae exit the Indian naval ship INS Kochi after they were rescued, in Mumbai [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

In another operation, a navy helicopter rescued 35 crew members of another barge, which ran aground north of Mumbai, a government statement said.

Both barges were working for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India. The company said the vessels were carrying personnel deployed for offshore drilling.

Several other ONGC vessels were stranded in the storm and the government has set up a committee to inquire into the sequence of events.

Dozens dead in Gujarat, Maharashtra

Cyclone Tauktae packed sustained winds of up to 210 kilometres (130 miles) per hour, leaving dozens dead in Gujarat and Maharashtra states as it pummelled India’s western coast late on Monday, leaving a trail of destruction, compounding the misery for a country struggling with a devastating surge in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday inspected the damage from the air. The federal government declared financial aid worth 10 billion Indian rupees ($137m) for immediate relief activities for Gujarat.

Damaged vehicles are seen following Cyclone Tauktae in Una in Gujarat [Amit Dave/Reuters]

Officials reported more than 16,000 houses were damaged in Gujarat and thousands of trees and electric poles uprooted.

Even before it made landfall in Gujarat state, with gusts of up to 185km (115 miles) per hour, heavy rains at its outer bands and strong winds killed about 20 people in western and southern India.

In Gujarat where winds smashed windows, felled tens of thousands of trees and knocked out power for huge numbers of people, the number of dead rose to 53, officials said late on Wednesday.

The toll could rise further, however, with local newspapers saying almost 80 people had died in the state, many killed by collapsing houses or walls.

“We are yet to establish contact with many villages, and it is very likely the number of dead will rise,” an official said, requesting anonymity.

The cyclone weakened into a depression as it moved across northern India, dumping heavy rain as it did so including in Prayagraj and New Delhi, which had its wettest May day on record in decades.

New cyclone warning

Meanwhile, a big new storm was brewing in the Bay of Bengal off India’s east coast, forecasters warned on Thursday, just days after the biggest cyclone hit the west of the country in decades.

Scientists say cyclones in the region are becoming more frequent and stronger as climate change leads to warmer sea temperatures.

In its latest warning, the Indian Meteorological Department said that a low-pressure area was likely to form on Saturday in the Bay of Bengal off India’s east coast.

The system was “very likely” to intensify gradually into a cyclonic storm, which would reach the coasts of the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha on approximately May 26.


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