India evacuates hundreds of thousands as cyclone Vayu builds fury

National Disaster Response Force soldiers help villagers to evacuate from Naliya village in the western state of Gujarat on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (NDRF via AP)
Updated 12 June 2019
0

India evacuates hundreds of thousands as cyclone Vayu builds fury

  • Cyclone Vayu is set to cross the coast with sustained wind speeds of 145 kph to 155 kph
  • About 300,000 people are being moved from the most vulnerable areas into shelters

MUMBAI: India evacuated hundreds of thousands of people to shelters along the coast in its western state of Gujarat as a cyclone gathering intensity over the Arabian Sea was expected to hit land on Thursday.
Weather officials said Cyclone Vayu, with wind speeds equivalent to those of a Category 1 hurricane, is set to cross the coast with sustained wind speeds of 145 kph to 155 kph (90 mph to 96 mph), and could gust as high as 170 kph (106 mph).
The state government said it had begun moving about 300,000 people from the most vulnerable areas into shelters.
“We have started evacuation in coastal districts today morning,” a Gujarat disaster management official said on Wednesday.
The state’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, has asked India’s military and its National Disaster Response Force for help with rescue and relief efforts if the cyclone causes widespread damage and disruption.
The federal home minister, Amit Shah, also urged officials to ensure swift restoration of utilities such as power, telecoms and drinking water if they are disrupted by the cyclone.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) warned the cyclone could hold up the progress of annual monsoon rains, as the storm drew rain clouds from over the sea.
The monsoon was already about a week late in arriving at Kerala on the southern coast this year, and much of the country has broiled in a summer heatwave in recent weeks.
Gujarat is also home to large refineries and sea ports near the storm’s path.
India’s biggest oil refinery, owned by Reliance Industries, is in Gujarat, though a company official said the cyclone was expected to weaken by the time it reached the Jamnagar-based refinery.
“But in case the course changes or intensifies, the refinery is ready for any contingency,” he added, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Sikka Ports and Terminals, which handles crude oil and refined products for Reliance Industries, halted vessel berthing at a western port on Wednesday over a cyclone warning, according to a port notice.
The company’s ports also handle oil and refined products cargo for Bharat Oman Refineries, a subsidiary of state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp.
Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone is preparing to move employees at two ports it runs to safer areas, a spokesman said.
“Our Mundra and Tuna ports will be closest to the path,” he added. “All the necessary precautions are being put in place.”
Nayara Energy, owned by a consortium led by Russia’s Rosneft, said it was monitoring the situation and also taking precautionary measures at its Gujarat refinery.
In May, Cyclone Fani, the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, killed at least 34 people on India’s eastern coast, destroying houses and ripping off roofs.
Authorities had evacuated more than 1.2 million people in advance of the storm, after an even more powerful cyclone in 1999 killed about 10,000 people and caused damage running into billions of dollars.


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
0

Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.