Indian navy recovers 26 bodies from barge that sank in storm

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This May, 18, 2021 satellite image released NASA shows Cyclone Tauktae approaching India’s western coast. The Indian navy is working to rescue crew members from a sunken barge and a second cargo vessel that was adrift Tuesday off the coast of Mumbai after a deadly cyclone struck the western coast. (NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) via AP)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian navy ships recovered 26 bodies of people who were aboard a barge that sank off Mumbai as the most powerful storm to hit the region in more than two decades blew ashore this week, officials said Wednesday.

The search is continuing for 49 more people who are missing after the cyclone hit Monday, navy spokesman Mehul Karnik said.

He said five ships, a surveillance aircraft and three helicopters involved in the search had rescued 186 people in rough seas with waves of up to 7 meters (25 feet).

A navy statement said 125 survivors and two bodies have arrived in Mumbai and others are expected to get there late Wednesday.

Cyclone Tauktae packed sustained winds of up to 210 kilometers (130 miles) per hour when it came ashore in Gujarat state. It left more than 50 dead in Gujarat and Maharashtra states.

The weather has improved, and the search operation for those who are missing has intensified, navy Cmdr. Alok Anand said, adding that some of the survivors had received minor injuries.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw the damage caused by the cyclone by flying over the worst-hit areas and later met with state officials in Ahmedabad, a key city in western Gujarat state.

“Government is working closely with all the states affected by the cyclone,” he tweeted.

The Hindu newspaper reported that more than 16,000 houses were damaged in Gujarat state, while thousands of trees and electric poles were uprooted by the force of the wind.

A survivor told the New Delhi Television news channel that he jumped into the sea with his life jacket and was later picked up by the navy.

In another operation, a navy helicopter rescued 35 crew members of another barge, which ran aground north of Mumbai, a government statement said.

Both barges were working for Oil and Natural Gas Corp., the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India.

The company said the barges were carrying personnel deployed for offshore drilling and their anchors gave away during the storm. India’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located off Mumbai.

Navy helicopters also provided food and water to nearly 300 crew members of a support station and drilling ship that were being towed back to Mumbai by the company’s support vessels, the statement said.

The storm has weakened into a depression centered over the south of Rajasthan state and adjoining Gujarat region, the Indian Meteorological Department said Wednesday.

In neighboring Nepal, authorities asked mountaineers to descend from high altitudes because the storm might bring severe weather.

Hundreds of climbers, guides and staff are trying to climb mountains in Nepal this month, when weather is usually the most favorable in the high altitudes. Nepal has eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks, including Mount Everest.

Nepal’s Department of Tourism on Tuesday asked climbers and outfitting agencies to monitor the weather and stay safe.

In 2014, snowstorms and avalanches triggered by a cyclone in India killed 43 people in Nepal’s mountains in the worst hiking disaster in the Himalayan nation.

The snowstorms were believed to be whipped up by the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier.

The blizzards swept through the popular Annapurna trekking route, and hikers were caught off-guard when the weather changed quickly.

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Associated Press writer Binaj Gurubacharya in Kathmandu, Nepal, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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