Biparjoy disrupts infra, but damage contained
Cyclone Biparjoy caused damage to homes, trees, and power lines in several parts of Gujarat, India, after making landfall near Jakhau port on Thursday. The evacuation of over 100,000 people and preparations by multiple agencies helped contain casualties, with 23 injuries confirmed and no known fatalities. The cyclone caused flooding in Saurashtra and Kutch, and power outages affecting over 4,600 villages. The cyclone weakened as it headed towards Rajasthan, where heavy rain is forecast. The Gujarat government has announced cash incentives for those impacted by the cyclone, and preliminary assessments have been ordered to estimate damages.
Cyclone Biparjoy swept through several parts of Gujarat on Friday, damaging homes, uprooting trees, snapping electricity, and causing flooding in Saurashtra and Kutch in the hours after it made landfall near the Jakhau port late on Thursday, with winds gusting up to 140k/hr.
Intensive preparations by multiple central and state agencies and the evacuation of over a 100,000 people, however, meant casualties were contained, with two deaths reported before landfall on Thursday. In all, officials said on Friday, 23 injuries were confirmed and no known fatalities had taken place once the cyclone crossed into land.
Gujarat commissioner of relief, Alok Pandey, said that a total of 1,137 trees fell, obstructing 263 roads, most of which were restored. The cyclonic winds also caused substantial power outages, with 5,120 power poles collapsing and affecting over 4,600 villages.
In terms of structural damage, Pandey said 65 huts, 20 mud houses and nine brick-and-mortar homes collapsed while 474 more mud houses and two permanent homes were partially damaged.
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) director general Atul Karwal said: “Two lives were lost before the landfall, which is tragic but there were no deaths after the cyclone made landfall… There is cell phone connectivity and the number of concrete houses damaged is in single digits.”
The massive evacuation appears to have been successful in averting any significant number of casualties, as had been in 2021 when cyclone Tauktae followed a similar trajectory. The lessons from such mobilisation, the template for which was set a decade ago in Odisha, must continue to be followed for future disaster threats.
Originally categorised as an extremely severe cyclonic storm, Biparjoy made landfall as a slightly weakened but still “very severe” cyclone, bringing heavy rain to Gujarat. The storm lost its intensity and was expected to turn into a deep depression as it headed towards Rajasthan, where it was forecast to trigger heavy rain.
Jakhau and Mandvi towns, in Gujarat’s Kutch region, bore the brunt of the cyclone following the landfall that began at 6.30pm on Thursday and took about five hours to complete.
The strong winds caused temporary sheds and hoardings to collapse, while incessant rain led to flooding in several low-lying areas. In towns and cities such as Bhuj, trees and electricity poles lay uprooted on several roads as personnel of the administration conducted the dual task of keeping people off the streets and restoring normalcy when they could.
Most, wary of the damage that Cyclone Tauktae, that had taken place in 2021, caused, stayed indoors and markets remained shut.
“The uneasy calm reminds me of the lockdown period when people stayed indoors for months together. People in Bhuj and even elsewhere in Kutch have taken a cue from that and stored all essential things that can last for few days. Everybody has taken the cyclone warning quite seriously,” said Navin Patel, a 35-year-old resident of Bhuj.
There were, however, some moments of worry at ports such as Okha, where a tugboat sank, and MV HAI NAM 81 vessel, which reported engine trouble at Kandhla Port, began drifting towards Dwarka in choppy seas. “There were 22 Vietnamese crew on board this vessel. We could not get assisting tugs or emergency towing vessel from DG shipping due to the bad weather. The engine was partially working and was not able to move against the wind or current. We managed to keep it safe till the weather condition improved and have safely rescued all the crew members along with the vessel,” said Captain Ashwin Solanki, chief nautical officer, Gujarat Maritime Board.
He said that all ports along the Gulf of Kutch, including Kandla, Mundra, Navlakhi, Bedi, Sikka and Okha, were set to be allowed to resume operations in a day or so.
On Friday morning, chief minister Bhupendra Patel and senior officials convened at the State Emergency Operation Center (SEOC) to oversee the situation. Commissioner of relief Pandey said that the priority was to immediately address damage and reinstate crucial services such as water, communications, electricity, and road connectivity.
In a video message, Patel thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union minister Amit Shah for support.
“The Central Government assured full support and sent a team of ministers to review rescue efforts. Due to the Gujarat government’s preparedness and timely steps, the state overcame the calamity, avoiding significant loss of life and property,” said Patel.
The Gujarat government announced cash incentives of ₹100 per day to adults and ₹60 per day for children, which will be given to approximately 100,000 people for five days. The Prime Minister held meetings and maintained regular communication to assess the situation, Patel said.
Shah assisted by video conferencing with federal and state officers, as well as district collectors, he added.
Heavy rain warnings have been issued for parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat as the cyclone moved northeastwards with a speed of 13kmph, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
IMD director general M Mohapatra said that strong winds can be expected over neighbouring areas of Rajasthan starting Friday evening along with extremely heavy rains.
The Met department has issued an orange alert for some areas of Rajasthan, including Barmer, Jalore, Jaisalmer, Sirohi, Jodhpur, Pali, and adjacent locations, and has forecast heavy to very heavy rain on Friday.
Preliminary assessments were ordered to estimate damages and plan assistance measures such as cash aid, household support, shack assistance, and animal aid for those impacted by the cyclone, officials said.
Power was successfully restored in 3,580 villages by teams from the PGVCL (Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Limited), the government said.
In the evening, the state police issued warnings to people to remain indoors until the cyclone had completely passed. “Strong winds accompanied by heavy rains are blowing at Mundra, Mandvi, Naliya, and Jakhau. Police are deployed everywhere and are stationed all over the district so that they can reach wherever there is a need. No casualties have been reported so far. We appeal to the people to come out of their houses only after the cyclone has completely calmed down,” Bhuj superintendent of police Karan Singh Vaghela said.
NDRF director general Karwal said that over the next two days, there will be heavy rainfall in southern Rajasthan. “As the cyclone loses strength and becomes a deep depression, there is a possibility of rainfall in south Rajasthan. The 18 teams deployed in Gujarat are working there, and we are also in touch with Rajasthan. Upon the request of the Rajasthan state government, we have sent a team to Jalore in advance of the eventual possibility that the heavy rain will cause flooding,” the NDRF director general said.
“Our teams are also deployed in other affected states; four in Karnataka, five in Maharashtra, one in Diu (UT), and also several teams are stationed in reserve in these areas,” he said.