At least seven people have been reported killed in India due to rough waters and high winds, as authorities began evacuating thousands of people from western coastal areas, two days before a powerful cyclone approaches the country and neighbouring southern Pakistan.
Cyclone Biparjoy is likely the most powerful to hit western India and Pakistan since 2021, and follows devastating floods that ravaged Pakistan last year, leaving 1,739 people dead and $30 billion in losses, authorities warned on Tuesday.
Fishermen in both countries have been asked to stay ashore and move their boats to safer locations.
Classified as a very severe cyclonic storm, Biparjoy is expected to make landfall on Thursday evening between Mandvi in India's Gujarat and Karachi in Pakistan, with maximum sustained wind speed of 125-135 km (78-84 miles) per hour, gusting to 150 km (93 miles) per hour, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
In Mumbai, India's western metropolis that is south of Gujarat, four boys drowned at Juhu beach on Monday evening, according to police. So far, authorities have found the bodies of two.
High waves in the Arabian Sea, accompanied by a heavy downpour and gusting winds pounded Gujarat's coastal areas, uprooting trees and resulting in wall collapse that killed three more people in Kutch and Rajkot districts of the state, authorities added.
Eight districts in coastal Gujarat are expected to be affected, the state government said. Fishing operations in the region have been suspended till Friday while schools have declared holidays.
Gujarat is home to many offshore oil installations and major ports in the country and most have been forced to suspend operations.
According to the Gujarat government, 21 teams of the National Disaster Response Force and 13 teams of the State Disaster Response Force have been deployed in the state for rescue work.
"We have already started evacuations from coastal areas. More than 7,000 people have been evacuated so far and the number is expected to cross 50-60 thousand," said Kamal Dayani, a senior state official.
Two of India's largest ports - Kandla and Mundra - located in Gujarat, have suspended operations, the state government said. Other ports including Bedi, Navlakhi, Porbandar, Okha, Pipavav and Bhavnagar have also closed due to the cyclone, according to shipping sources.
Reliance Industries, which operates the world's largest refining complex in Gujarat's Jamnagar, declared a force majeure, suspending exports of diesel and other oil products from Gujarat's Sikka port due to the storm, traders said.
The Adani conglomerate's ports business, Adani Ports , said it suspended vessel operations on Monday at Mundra, India's biggest commercial port that has the country's largest coal import terminal, and also at Tuna port near Kandla.
The Indian Coast Guard said it evacuated 50 personnel from a jack-up oil rig off Gujarat's coast named Key Singapore, which is owned by Dubai-based Shelf Drilling and currently working for Cairn Oil & Gas (Vedanta Ltd.), according to Shelf Drilling's website.
In Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Authority said instructions were being given to take precautionary measures in southern and southeastern parts that may be affected.
Pakistan’s army and civil authorities are planning to evacuate 80,000 people to safety along the southern coast.
The military so far had evacuated 22,000 people from coastal towns, said Sharjeel Memon, the information minister in Sindh province. The rest of the 80,000 people are expected to be moved before the landfall on Thursday.
Experts say climate crisis is leading to an increase in cyclones in the Arabian Sea region, making preparations for natural disasters all the more urgent.
“The oceans have become warmer already on account of climate change,” said Raghu Murtugudde, Earth system scientist at the University of Maryland. He said a recent study shows that the Arabian Sea has warmed up by almost 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since March this year, making conditions favorable for severe cyclones.
Cyclone Tauktae in 2021 was the last severe cyclone that made landfall in the same region. It claimed 174 lives, a relatively low figure thanks to extensive preparations ahead of the cyclone.
In 1998, a cyclone that hit Gujarat claimed more than 1,000 lives and caused excessive damage. A cyclone that hit Sindh province and the city of Karachi in 1965 killed more than 10,000 people.