(CNN) – India was hit on Monday by the strongest storm ever recorded on its western coast, making it difficult for the authorities to respond to the covid-19 crisis in some of the most affected regions of the country.Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, a storm with winds equivalent to those of a Category 3 hurricane that formed in the Arabian Sea, made landfall on Monday night local time in Gujarat. It strengthened slightly as it reached the western state with maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour, according to the United States Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
By Tuesday morning it had weakened from an “extremely severe cyclonic storm” to a “severe cyclonic storm”, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
Photos and videos show roads turned into rivers by heavy rains, and trees and power lines blown down by fierce winds.
The cyclone has killed at least 26 people in the coastal states of Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, according to state authorities.
According to state disaster protection authorities, the deaths were due to drowning at sea, house collapses, lightning strikes and other incidents related to bad weather.
This comes as India is reeling from its second wave of coronavirus, which has infected millions of people and killed tens of thousands since it began in mid-March. Although daily case numbers began to decline last week, COVID-related deaths continue to break records and the crisis is far from over, especially in rural areas with fewer resources and medical supplies.
Among the hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from low-lying areas this week due to the arrival of the cyclone, were covid-19 patients. In Mumbai, 580 patients from makeshift care centers were transferred to various hospitals on Friday and Saturday, according to the city’s municipal administration.
However, at the time, cases in India were still relatively low, less than 10,000 a day, and the country was emerging from strict lockdown.
This time, India is the global epicenter of the pandemic. Its healthcare system has collapsed and patients continue to die from shortages of oxygen and other supplies. The government is more fragile and under greater scrutiny than before, as it struggles to contain the outbreak and faces strong criticism both at home and abroad.
And the cyclone could be just the harbinger of more disasters to come, as India’s months-long monsoon season approaches.
A terrible double whammy
More than 200,000 people from Gujarat have been evacuated from coastal areas, Chief State Minister Vijay Rupani said on Monday.
More than 2,435 villages were without electricity, although 484 have already recovered it.
Storm surges of up to 4 meters could cause significant coastal flooding in the region, the IMD warned. Ahmedabad, the most populous city in Gujarat, could see about 102mm of rainfall in the next 24 to 48 hours, more than its average January-June rainfall.
Thousands of people in Kerala and Karnataka are seeking refuge in emergency camps, with many houses damaged by extreme weather, according to the chief ministers of both states.
India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has deployed more than 100 teams to six coastal states to assist efforts on the ground. The Indian Army has also been deployed; on Tuesday, the Navy said it had rescued 177 people from a barge that sank in an oil field off the coast of Mumbai.
The cyclone, which continues to the north, is also having an impact on the pandemic relief effort.
One hundred of the 400 covid-19 hospitals in Gujarat lost access to power, Rupani said on Tuesday. All hospitals have standby generators, but these devices failed in four hospitals, leaving them without power.
Authorities are working to repair the affected generators, Rupani said. Vaccinations have been suspended throughout Gujarat.
“The big concern was the covid,” he said. “The oxygen we produce has been transported to our hospitals, but we also have to send oxygen to other states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, etc.”
Oxygen production continues even during the cyclone, he said.
“This cyclone is a terrible double whammy for millions of people in India, whose families have been affected by infections and record deaths from covid,” said Udaya Regmi, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Media Societies. Red Moon for South Asia, in a statement on Monday.
“Many families are barely staying afloat,” he added.
A curfew was already in effect in 36 cities in Gujarat as part of the covid restrictions. It was scheduled to end on Tuesday, but has now been extended for three more days because of the cyclone, Rupani said.
The impending monsoon season is one more complication. Every year, heavy monsoon rains begin in June and last until early fall, replenishing the water reserves that farmers depend on to feed their crops.
But the rains also constantly overwhelm flood control systems and cause significant damage in the worst affected areas.
The monsoon season has become more intense over the years as climate change has made the weather more extreme and unpredictable. In 2018, hundreds of people died in Kerala state alone due to the floods in August. In 2019, more than 1,600 people died across the country during the monsoon season.
A study published earlier this year He suggested that for every degree Celsius of global warming, India’s monsoon rains are likely to increase by 5%, meaning more “chaotic” monsoon seasons.
Although the start of this year’s monsoon season is scheduled for June 1, it could be anticipated due to the landfall of Cyclone Tauktae and changing winds, according to CNN meteorologists.