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India, Pakistan brace for fast approaching cyclone

Mandvi, India/Karachi, Pakistan

Authorities in India’s western state of Gujarat evacuated more than 75,000 people from vulnerable coastal communities with cyclone Biparjoy expected to whirl in from the Arabian Sea and make landfall by Thursday evening. 

Early on Thursday, the storm, classified as a very severe cyclone, was centred 180 kilometres off Jakhau port in Gujarat and 270 kilometres off Karachi in Pakistan, the India Meteorological Department said.

A man carries a child from a truck during an evacuation before the arrival of cyclone Biparjoy in Jakhau in the western state of Gujarat, India, on 14th June, 2023.

A man carries a child from a truck during an evacuation before the arrival of cyclone Biparjoy in Jakhau in the western state of Gujarat, India, on 14th June, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas

The storm appeared to have lost some of its intensity, and is expected to have a maximum sustained wind speed of 115-125 kph gusting up to 140 kph, down from the 150 kph that the IMD had estimated on Wednesday.

There was no change in its path, however, and the cyclone was still expected to make landfall near India’s Jakhau port, between Mandvi in Gujarat and Karachi, the IMD said.

In the coastal town of Mandvi, a Reuters witness said while winds were high, the sky was blue and the sun was out on Thursday morning with shops starting to open and people coming out on the streets. 

“On Thursday morning, wind speed as high as 90 kmph were reported on Gujarat coast,” said a senior IMD official. 

“The speed will rise gradually in the next few hours to 120 kmph, gusting to 135 kmph in the afternoon. We are expecting landfall in the evening when wind speeds would be even higher.”

Auditorium halls in schools and other government buildings were converted into relief camps to provide shelter to displaced people in both India and Pakistan.

Ships and boats have been moved from some areas of Pakistan’s coast while hospitals in the region were put on high alert as part of preparations for the cyclone.

Pakistan Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said Karachi, a port city of 20 million people, was not under immediate threat, but emergency measures were being taken to deal with winds and rain that were expected to batter the economic hub.

“There will be voluntary evacuations carrying on in the city of Karachi, which is, sort of, not directly in the eye of the storm like the coastal areas…but it is certainly going to feel the brunt of high intensity, high velocity winds, as well as rainfall,” Rehman said, as residents in Karachi stocked up on essential food and grains.

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Temporary thatched houses in coastal Gujarat could be completely flattened while standing crops, plantations and roads were expected to face major damage, the IMD said in a statement, adding that railways could also face disruption.

Indian authorities suspended fishing until Friday, closed down schools and banned people from using beaches.

Many offshore oil installations and major ports, which line the coasts of Gujarat, have suspended operations.

“We have evacuated more than 75,000 persons from the eight coastal districts in Gujarat that are expected to be impacted by the cyclone,” said Kamal Dayani, a senior official overseeing rescue operations.

– Additional reporting by RAJENDRA JADHAV in Mumbai, India


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