Cyclone in western India weakens further, biggest private port reopens

Frontline workers help people cross a flooded street after heavy rainfall caused by Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai, India, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) -A cyclone that slammed into India's west coast weakened on Tuesday and the country's biggest private port reopened, while authorities said clearing roads was a priority to ensure steady supply of oxygen to hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19.

More than 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the western state of Gujarat and authorities shut ports and major airports as the cyclone Tauktae made landfall late on Monday, packing gusts of up to 210 kph (130 mph).

The cyclone which was categorised as "extremely severe" weakened to a "very severe" storm after making landfall, the Indian Meteorological department said. The intensity is set to reduce further in the next few hours, it added.

The cyclone, the most powerful in more than two decades, piles pressure on India which is already grappling with a staggering spike in coronavirus cases and deaths as well as a shortage of beds and oxygen in hospitals.

"Our priority is to clear the roads, so there is no impact on oxygen movement" due to the cyclone, said Gaurang Makwana, the top official of Bhavnagar district in Gujarat.

The cyclone has killed at least 16 people and left a trail of destruction as it brushed past the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, authorities said.

The Indian navy said it had rescued 146 people from one of two barges that were adrift near the Mumbai coastline, adding that planes and helicopters had been deployed to scour the seas.

In Gujarat, no damages have been reported at the refineries and sea ports that were expected to be in the storm's path.

At the Jamnagar refinery, the world's biggest oil refinery complex that is owned by Reliance Industries, no damage was reported, a company spokesman told Reuters.

Operations at the Mundra port, India's largest private port, have resumed, a port official said.

The Kandla Port, the largest government-run port in the country, has however not resumed operations as wind speed of more than 70 kmph made it unsafe to do so, port officials said.

"We may resume operations in the afternoon today depending on the weather conditions," SK Mehta, chairman of Kandla Port, said, adding there was no damage in the port.

(Additional reporting by Sudarsha Varadhan; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nupur Anand; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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