At least six people have been killed and large areas inundated, houses destroyed and trees and power lines uprooted by a severe cyclone that hovered off India's western coast on Sunday.
Cyclone Tauktae, the season's first major storm, is expected to make landfall on Tuesday in Gujarat state, a statement by the India Meteorological Department said.
Packing winds of up to 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour), Tauktae has been building up over the Arabian Sea and has moved northwards past Kerala and Karnataka states and is currently located northwest of Goa.
Destruction warning for Gujarat
The forecast warned of heavy damage along coastal Gujarat and said wind speeds could reach 175 kilometers per hour.
The heavy rains and flooding have already turned deadly. Two people have died in Kerala and four in Karnataka, the Indian Express newspaper reported.
Authorities are now preparing to move thousands of residents from low-lying areas on the western coast.
"All measures being taken to evacuate people in the areas affected by the cyclone so as to ensure zero loss of life," the government said in a statement.
Storm to exacerbate COVID woes
Hundreds of thousands of people were moved to temporary relief shelters in other states despite the risks associated with a fast-spreading second wave of the coronavirus in India.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has asked officials to ensure that the supply of electricity and oxygen to COVID-19 hospitals and other medical facilities is not disrupted, the state government's statement said.
Vaccinations have been suspended for the next two days.
Gujarat is also home to large refineries and seaports that may end up being in the storm's path.
Nearly 2,500 government rescue workers have been deployed in six states — Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa — equipped with wireless radios, satellite phones, cutters and tools needed for recovery operations once the storm has passed.
India is no stranger to devastating cyclones, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense, rather than more frequent, according to meteorologists.
mm/nm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)