Thousands have been evacuated from India's western coast as volunteers, including church groups, gear up for the worst cyclone to hit the area in seven decades. Cyclone Nisarga, with a wind speed of 140 kilometers per hour, is expected to make landfall on June 3 afternoon at Alibag in Raigad district of Maharashtra state, some 90 kilometers south of Mumbai, India's biggest city and economic hub. Officials have evacuated some 100,000 people from low-lying areas of the districts of Raigad, Palghar and Thane. Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of Maharashtra state, has asked people not to move out of their homes on June 3 and 4. He also asked people living in huts and flimsy houses in the coastal area to move to temporary shelters, following authorities' instructions.Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai in the state capital, has instructed his priests and officials to prepare church schools and other institutions to accommodate people if the need arises.
"We need to be prepared to respond to the calamity," the cardinal said as he appealed to people to follow government instructions for their safety. Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the cardinal, said the prelate wants community members to help people in need. "We have stopped all our Covid-19 outreach programs following instructions from state government officials as venturing out at this juncture is not safe," Father Barrett told UCA News on June 3. The Diocese of Vasai is expected to be the worst affected by the cyclone and has alerted people to be prepared. "I have appealed to the fisher people in the area, a sizable number of them Catholics, not to venture into the sea for the next two days," said Archbishop Felix Antony Machado of Vasai. Archbishop Machado has also instructed his parish priests to use churches and other institutions to provide safe accommodation for people. "Reports said it is going to be a fierce cyclone, and we cannot now predict what is in store for us. We can only pray that God saves us from devastation," he told UCA News on June 2. Maharashtra state government has deployed teams of the National Disaster Response Force. The units are trained and equipped with tree and pole-cutting machines, communication gadgets, inflatable boats, first aid kits and basic medicines. They also carry a Covid kit that includes hand sanitizer, soap, gloves, face masks and face shields. Maharashtra has been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than any other Indian state. It has recorded more than 72,300 positive cases and 2,465 deaths. Father Barrett said many Catholic institutions in rural areas have been converted to quarantine homes for migrant workers, especially indigenous people from the state who returned from other states. Dry food has been distributed to more than 75,000 families benefiting more than 300,000 people in the past two months of lockdown. "That work was still continuing but has been suspended following instructions from the government," the priest said. Cyclone Nisarga comes close on the heels of Cyclone Amphan, which killed close to 100 people when it hit Bangladesh and the eastern Indian coastal states of West Bengal and Odisha on May 20, displacing millions.
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