India's western coastal states went on a state of high alert as Cyclone Phyan moved menacingly over the Arabian Sea on Wednesday afternoon. Schools, colleges and offices shut in Mumbai and people scurried home in pelting rain.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted a storm surge of about one metre above the highest tide over Alibagh, Raigarh, Greater Mumbai and Thane districts of Maharashtra and Valsad district of Gujarat at the time of landfall.
As it raised the warning level to red -- the highest alert -- the IMD website said there could be damage to coastal settlements and tree branches could break, damaging power and communication lines.
With Mumbai witnessing heavy rain under the influence of the cyclone even as its eye lay about 250 km west at sea, Maharashtra Chief Secretary Johny Joseph said: "All disaster control agencies like the district administration, police, civic and traffic authorities, fire brigade, home guards, coast guard, and Indian Navy have been put on high alert to tackle any eventuality arising out of the weather conditions."
People have been advised to remain indoors and especially to keep away from trees that may be uprooted by the wind that can gust up to 90 kmph.
Authorities have also advised citizens to keep away from popular coastal haunts like Churchgate, Nariman Point, Colaba, Worli, Bandra, Juhu, Versova, Marve, Bhayander and Vasai as huge waves could lash the shore by the evening.
Schools, colleges, government offices were shut at 1 pm and private firms advised to follow suit.
Non-stop rain and heavy cloud cover led to a number of flight delays in and out of Mumbai. According to an official of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, incoming flights were getting delayed by an hour and departures were around 15 minutes behind schedule.
Though there were traffic jams on the main roads in the city, suburban train services were operating normally. Central Railway and Western Railway ran special services to clear the rush of passengers, especially those bound for far-flung suburbs.
Factories along the north Maharashtra coast have been asked to take special precautions.
Fishermen in Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat, besides the Lakshadweep Islands, have been advised not to go out to sea. But about 80 fishing boats with an estimated 800 fishermen remained missing at sea, with Coast Guard planes searching for them.
Civic authorities have kept pumps in readiness at several coastal areas of Mumbai like Worli, Bandra, Juhu, Versova and Malad which could get flooded during the impending storm.
In Gujarat, the state government cancelled its Gunotsav-2009, scheduled to begin Thursday. The programme had envisaged a quality check campaign in 32,600 government-run primary schools by 3,000 bureaucrats fanning out across the state.
Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) head Ranjit Bannerji said 175 cyclone prone villages in 12 coastal districts had contingency measures in place. "We have an elaborate disaster management plan and a well-settled drill to deal with such eventualities."
"While it is south Gujarat and north Maharashtra where the cyclone is expected to hit but the administration is taking no chances on the Saurashtra-Kutch coast as well for the possibility of the storm veering off at the last minute cannot be totally ruled out," he added.
The weatherman said late on Wednesday morning that under the influence of the cyclone, "rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places and isolated extremely heavy fall (equal to or more than 25 cm) is likely over Konkan and Goa and Madhya Maharashtra during next 36 hours".
"Rainfall at many places with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places is likely over coastal Karnataka during next 12 hours. Rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls (equal to or more than 25 cm) is likely to commence over south Gujarat from today afternoon."