Mumbai is bracing for a rare Arabian Sea cyclone, prompting coastal evacuations and transport suspensions. The 20-million hub has already been struggling for weeks with a major coronavirus outbreak.
India's Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted cyclone's landfall Wednesday afternoon, local time, on the subcontinent's western coast, where Maharashtra state, with Mumbai its capital, intersects with Gujarat state.
Nirsaga comes just two weeks after India's eastern coast and neighboring Bangladesh were devastated as Cyclone Amphan tore through the Bay of Bengal.
Mumbai rarely faces the brunt of cyclones. The last struck the city in 1948, killing 12 people. Instead, the city is often flooded by monsoon rains starting in June.
"We have seen rains, but we have never seen a cyclone in the city. We don't know what damage it will do," exclaimed shack resident Shantaram Terekar.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said "offices, industries and other activities," just resuming after a 9-week pandemic lockdown, would stay shut on Wednesday and Thursday.
Mumbai authorities told slum dwellers to move to higher ground and turned empty schools into temporary shelters, with heavy rains and winds up to 110 kilometers (68 miles) per hour forecast.
From a newly built makeshift hospital on low-lying ground, 150 coronavirus patients were shifted to other medical facilities.
Police shooed residents away from beaches, with storm surges expected.
Mumbai's newly restored domestic airline travel was put on hold but for 19 flights Wednesday, and India's largest container port on Mumbai's outskirts was shut for 24 hours.
Special trains intended for jobless economic migrants were rescheduled and inter-state trains diverted or delayed to avoid Mumbai until the cyclone passed.
Social distancing 'virtually impossible'
Save the Children's chief India executive Bidisha Pillai warned that if the cyclone damaged clinics "the city won't be able to cope with the large number of Covid-19 cases, and social distancing will become virtually impossible to follow."
So far, the metropolis and surrounding areas have faced some 55,000 reported coronavirus cases, with more than 1,700 deaths.
South of Maharastra, India's western coastal state of Goa, received at least 127 millimeters (5 inches) of torrential rain Wednesday — about a week's average — as Cyclone Nisarga approached.
ipj/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP)