It seems to be a post-26/7 phenomenon. After that day, four years ago, when the city received 944 mm of rainfall and was submerged, the slightest warning of heavy rains sends Mumbaiites scurrying back home.
Weather predictions for Wednesday, however, caused a little more panic because of the possibility of Cyclone Phyan skirting the city’s coastline causing heavy rains.
Employees of government and private establishments started leaving their offices after the state government issued a high alert and asked everyone to reach home before evening.
Schools and colleges also let students leave after lunchtime around 1 pm.
With everyone heading home—mainly from south Mumbai to north as is the pattern in the city—roads were packed earlier than usual.
“I faced more trouble because of the traffic as parents rushed to pick up their children,” said Seema Parekh, a parent who lives at Kemps Corner.
Text messages started doing the rounds warning people to leave early. This added to the chaos. Parents who went to pick up their kids from schools were left stranded as rickshaws were far and few at 1 pm. “I couldn’t reach the school on time as there were not many empty rickshaws on road. And those which were running were full,” said V Reddy from Andheri (W).
This was because autorickshaws and taxis running on compressed natural gas usually fill up their tanks between 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm when it’s lunch time for offices and schools.
The sudden decision of the state government to shut down, led to a surge in demand for these modes of transport, which were waiting to tank up at petrol pumps.
“We were in such a hurry we were even ready to buy gas at a higher price,” said an autorickshaw driver from Juhu. “But the petrol pumps refused to entertain us. We lost good business due to this.”
The Brihanmumbai Electric and Suburban Transport undertaking had to introduce extra bus services and the railways had to start more trains to accommodate the commuter rush.
The upside was for people who did work until the end of the day. They found the roads back home unusually empty because most of Mumbai was already at home.