Indian navy recovers 22 bodies from barge that sank in storm

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian navy ships recovered 22 bodies of people who were aboard a barge that sank off Mumbai as a cyclone blew ashore this week, officials said Wednesday.

The search is continuing for 55 more missing people, navy spokesman Mehul Karnik said.

He said the three ships and helicopters involved in the search had rescued 184 people in rough seas with waves of up to seven meters (25 feet).

Cyclone Tauktae, the most powerful storm to hit the region in more than two decades, packed sustained winds of up to 210 kilometers (130 miles) per hour when it came ashore in Gujarat state late Monday. The storm left more than 50 dead in Gujarat and Maharashtra states.

The weather has since improved and the search operation for the missing people has been intensified, navy Cdr. Alok Anand said.

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 crewmembers of another barge, GAL Constructor, 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.

The Hindu newspaper reported that more than 16,000 houses were damaged by the cyclone in Gujarat state.

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 attempting to climb various 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 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.

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