Rare Cyclone to Disrupt Business in India’s Financial Hub

By Pratik Parija | June 2, 2020

Mumbai, the financial capital of Asia’s third-largest economy, is likely to be affected by a cyclonic storm on Wednesday, potentially causing widespread disruption in business and hurting efforts to fight the virus outbreak in a city that’s emerged as the epicenter of infections in India.

The second cyclone in the country in a fortnight will carry heavy rain and wind speeds as high as 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. It is seen hitting the coasts of Maharashtra and Gujarat Wednesday afternoon and will be intense enough to damage communication, electricity poles, trees, and plantations, according to the India Meteorological Department.

The storm comes at a time when India is slowly springing back to life after nearly two months of complete shutdown as the world’s most-populous nation took stringent measures to check the spread of Covid-19. The outbreak in Mumbai has snowballed, with the city now accounting for more than a fifth of India’s over 5,600 deaths and more than 198,000 infections.

Cyclone Nisarga over the Arabian Sea is the biggest storm to make landfall near Mumbai in at least more than a decade. Phyan had hit India’s western coast near the commercial capital in 2009. Nisarga follows Amphan, the worst cyclone over the Bay of Bengal since 1999 that displaced millions and killed more than 100 people across India and Bangladesh late in May.

“The Mumbai metropolitan area has 20 million people, is very vulnerable to cyclones at the best of times (not having had one ever, for all practical purposes), and is currently a hotspot of the coronavirus pandemic,” Adam Sobel, atmospheric scientist and a professor at Columbia University wrote in a blog posted on June 1.

Rainfall will intensify from June 2, the weather office said. Some parts of the central and coastal areas of Maharashtra, including Mumbai and Thane, will receive heavy to “extremely heavy” rainfall on Wednesday. Sea conditions are expected to be rough, with fishermen warned to stay on land until Thursday, the weather office said.

The cyclone is adding to the country’s misery as the pandemic has resulted in loss of livelihood and pushed millions into poverty because of the strict stay-at-home rules. As a result, the economy is heading for its first full-year GDP drop in more than four decades.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a Twitter post that he took “stock of the situation in the wake of cyclone conditions in parts of India’s western coast”, while Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said people living in mud houses were being evacuated to safer places. Mumbai’s slum dwellers, especially in low-lying areas, were asked to move, Thackeray said.

High Alert

Mumbai is prone to heavy rains and floods, but cyclonic storms are rare in the mega city. Last year, the heaviest downpour since 2005 inundated the city, delaying trains and planes and spurring the city administration to declare a holiday.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust at Navi Mumbai has planned to sail out all berthed vessels after completing cargo work late on Tuesday, it said in an alert. All inward movements will be suspended until the weather condition improves, it added.

IndiGo, Asia’s biggest budget airline by market value, said flights to or from Mumbai, Pune, Shirdi and Surat are likely to be impacted due to the cyclone, while Vodafone Idea Ltd. said it was taking all necessary precautions and, if needed, will work with other operators to open intra-circle roaming facilities.

However, the storm is unlikely to cause a major power outage in Mumbai as alternate transmission networks can be deployed to replace those damaged, according to Tata Power Co. Ltd. Most of the company’s distribution network is underground and should be left unharmed by the cyclone, Sanjay Banga, president for transmission and distribution at the company said by phone.

A Reserve Bank of India spokesman in Mumbai said that all arrangements were in place for the smooth operation of settlement of trades and transactions.

According to the National Disaster Relief Force, 31 teams have been assigned for the west coast to deal with the situation. Of the 16 teams dedicated to Maharashtra, three are kept ready for Mumbai.

“All 24 of our city administration departments are on high alert,” said Tanaji Kamble, spokesman for the Mumbai municipal corporation. “The coast guard and fire department are readying for any evacuation if needed. They are preparing to move people, especially those from fishing villages and slums or habitats near the shore, to nearby government schools.”

Large industrial establishments and petrochemical companies in Mumbai have been asked to take appropriate measures to keep their systems and materials safe, it said. All hospitals in the city have been directed to ensure that their power generators are operational, the corporation said in a Twitter message.

Fuels retailers such as Bharat Petroleum Corp. are stocking up tanks and other storages in Maharashtra and Gujarat for an uninterrupted supply, according to refineries director R. Ramachandran. The company is taking all precautions, including sufficient raw materials, to keep its Mumbai refinery operational, he said.

The weather office advised to suspend fishing operations in the area, evacuate people from low-lying areas and to asked citizens stay indoors at the time of the storm.

–With assistance from Archana Chaudhary, Anirban Nag, Kartik Goyal, Debjit Chakraborty, Rajesh Kumar Singh, P R Sanjai, Dhwani Pandya and Anurag Kotoky.

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