Gujarat on​ high alert as cyclone Vayu nears

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India's Air Force, Coastguard and Navy have all been put on high alert due to the cyclonic storm, with 36 teams from the National Disaster Response Force deployed in coastal areas. AFP

A cyclonic storm barrelling towards western India has strengthened with gusts of up to 170kph expected when it hits land early on Thursday, forecasters said.

Authorities in Gujarat state where Vayu, now classed as a very severe cyclonic storm, were meanwhile trying to evacuate close to 300,000 people living in coastal areas.

“Many people living near the coast are not willing to shift and leave their homes. Our officers are trying to convince them,” local official Ajay Prakash said.

“Hopefully, we will be able to shift them in time,” said the official from the Gir-Somnath district where Vayu was due to make landfall at 5:30am (0000 GMT) on Thursday.

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani told reporters that 130,000 people had been shifted to safer locations as of Wednesday afternoon.

Jayata Sarkar from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said winds of between 145 and 155kph were expected with gusts of up to 170kph, equivalent to a category one or two hurricane.

The IMD also forecast waves of 3.5-5.3m over the next two days, with fishermen told not to venture out to sea.

The Air Force, Coastguard and Navy have all been put on high alert, with 36 teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) deployed in coastal areas.

In the system’s path is the coastal town of Verval, a major hub of India’s fisheries industry exporting to Japan, South East Asia, Europe, the Gulf and the US.

The Gujarat coast is also home to two major ports, Deendayal and Adani in the Gulf of Kutch, as well as the Jamnagar oil refinery, the world’s largest.

Cyclones are relatively rare in Gujarat. The worst was in 1998 when more than 4,000 people perished, according to official numbers.

Vayu is the second cyclone to hit India this year.

In May Cyclone Fani packing winds up to 200kph killed around 80 people in eastern India and Bangladesh.

But authorities won praise for evacuating more than a million people and averting what could have been a major disaster.

The latest weather system was also expected to draw moisture away from much-needed annual monsoon rains, with almost half of India hit by drought and many areas suffering a heatwave.