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As Cyclone Nisarga Nears, Palghar Villagers Unwilling to Shift to Govt Shelters Over Social Distancing Fears

People in Maharashtra, who are already grappling with coronavirus and virus-induced lockdown, are now bracing to confront cyclone ‘Nisarga’. The rescue teams of NDRF are busy is shifting people to safer places or shelter homes as the cyclone is expected to make landfall along the coastline of the state on Wednesday noon with high wind speed ranging up to 100-110 kmph, accompanied by heavy rainfall.

Ganesh Kumar, a beach photographer, who lives at Satti Padha village on Tuesday shifted to the St Mary’s School building at Dahanu in Palghar district along with his family of four and other villagers.

“In the last 67 days, I have not earned a single paisa due to the coronavirus and the lockdown. Now, I have to leave my house and take refuge in the school with my two daughters and wife,” Indian Express quoted Kumar as saying.

Villagers in Palghar district, who are already facing the brunt of coronavirus pandemic, were unwilling to shift to shelter homes even as the cyclone is expected to hit Alibaug, around 105 km south of Mumbai, on Wednesday noon before crossing over to the neighbouring state Gujarat.

While the Palghar district administration has claimed that more than 80 shelter homes have been arranged to ensure social distancing, several villagers were seen preferring to visit to the houses of their relatives to avoid any chance of virus spread. The Palghar district has, so far, reported 952 coronavirus cases and 32 deaths. Currently, there are 521 active cases while 399 have been discharged, reported Indian Express.

District Collector, Kailash Shinde on Tuesday said that over 21,000 villagers from 22 villages have been evacuated from the coastline, likely to be hit by the cyclone. “Our main task was to make sure that villagers did not live in kaccha houses near the coastline. We had set up 86 centers across the district to accommodate 6,10,00 people.”

Speaking on the concern raised by the villagers regarding the social distancing norm at shelter homes, Saurav Katiyar, the sub-district magistrate of Dahanu, assured, “In Dahanu taluka, arrangement for around 2,000 villagers has been made at six centers, each of which can accommodate over 800 people. This was done to ensure all Covid-19 guidelines are followed. Five other shelters were set up at K L Ponda School, A J Mhatre School, Lohana Samaj hall, a government hostel at Bordi, and a marriage hall in Dahanu.”

Even after announcements were made ensuring villagers that all needed precaution in the wake of Covid-19 were being taken, only 20 villagers of Satti Pada had reached St Mary’s School till 7.50pm on Tuesday, he said.

Most of the villagers have made their own arrangements and moved to the houses of their relatives away from the coastline, said Rahul Sarang, tehsildar of Dahanu taluka.

Seventeen-year-old Mehul Ganesh Pagdhare, a resident of Dahanu village, said he and his family of four were ready to shift to his uncle’s house located near Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. “They are not providing food, and have asked us to carry a tiffin box for the night. Only snacks will be arranged for the morning. Why should we go to these centers when we can go to a better place,” Ganesh told Indian Express.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said that the cyclone's eye diameter has decreased during the last one hour, indicating intensification of system. "Wind speed has increased from 85-95 kmph to 90-100 kmph gusting to 110 kmph," the IMD added.

Residents of Palghar, in Mumbai's suburbs, have been experiencing light rain since morning as Cyclone Nisarga is set to intensify into a 'severe cyclonic storm' in the next six hours. The metropolis and its neighbouring areas have been witnessing rainfall since Tuesday evening, prompting NDRF to deploy 20 teams and the local administration asking residents to be prepared for snapping of power and cuts in water supply during the landfall.