India’s oil industry is bracing itself as a powerful cyclone is set to slam into India early Wednesday morning, the second in less than two weeks.
Cyclone Yaas, equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, will cause heavy rains in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha, with wind speeds as high as 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour, according to the India Meteorological Department. Sea levels may increase four meters above regular tides and inundate low-lying areas, it said.
Ports, refineries and plants were on alert. Indian Oil Corp., the biggest refiner, has stopped unloading crude oil at Paradip in Odisha, according to a spokesman.
Ongoing construction activities by oil and gas companies in the region have been temporarily suspended, according to Indian Oil. All ships carrying crude oil and other related products have been asked to keep a safe distance from the cyclone’s path, it said in a statement, adding that efforts are underway to ensure smooth supply of liquid medical oxygen from the eastern parts to the rest of the country.
Oil explorers in the Bay of Bengal have been asked to take all precautions to maintain safe operations, the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons said in a Twitter post. Oil and Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said as a precautionary measure all major oil and steel industrial units along the east coast will operate with minimum manpower for the next two to three days.
Authorities are cautious this time after a fatal accident last week. The Indian Navy recovered 70 bodies after a barge and a tug boat, working for state-run Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) sank following cyclone Tauktae that hit the west coast on May 17. The navy rescued 188 people, but some are still missing.
Cyclone Tauktae hit the ONGC-operated Mumbai High asset offshore India’s west coast, which saw the barge and tug boat working at the field sink. State-owned ONGC and barge charterer Afcons have said they will pay compensation to the families of the victims and to the survivors of last week’s tragic accident.
Sixteen people are still missing as the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and ONGC continue their search operations for those still unaccounted for.
In preparation for today’s incoming cyclone, West Bengal has so far shifted about 900,000 people to various relief centers, Mamata Banerjee, the state’s chief minister told reporters yesterday. About 370,000 people, including state government officials, police, army officers, rehabilitation workers and volunteers, are working together to handle the situation, she said.
The timing of the storm poses several challenges for already stressed authorities in the country, which is battling a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The infections have strained India’s health system and overwhelmed crematoriums and hospitals. They have also spread to rural areas, where about 70% of the nation’s 1.3 billion people live.