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India on cyclone watch

NEW DELHI, India -- Residents on India's western coast are bracing themselves for the possible landfall of a severe cyclone brewing above the Arabian Sea.

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Although the cyclone was moving parallel to the coast weather officials say it could change course again and make landfall somewhere on the coast of Maharashtra state Thursday afternoon.

Among the cities possibly in the cyclone's path is India's commercial capital, Mumbai.

The cyclone, packing winds of up to 120 km (75 miles) an hour, turned north after idling southwest of Goa Wednesday night.

The resort state battened down the hatches as the cyclone swirled offshore but weather officials said the storm was now moving northwards.

"Goa is now out of its grip but it can hit coastal areas of Maharashtra," said Shravan Kumar, deputy director general of the Bombay weather office.

"We have hoisted a cautionary signal even at Bombay," he added.

However, a U.S. Navy weather website, www.npmoc.navy.mil, said the cyclone was likely to move northwards over the next 36 to 48 hours and drift away from the Indian coast.

'Not taking any chances'

In Goa, where the holiday season is almost over before the arrival of the annual monsoon rains, officials were bracing for heavy winds and rough seas.

"Policemen are going to coastal areas and telling people to stay indoors. Fishermen and tourists have also been cautioned. We are not taking any chances," Goa Chief Secretary Baleshwar Rai said.

But regional official Sanjeev Khirwar said there was "no need to push the panic button" and villages would not be evacuated unless the cyclone slammed into the state.

The armed forces were on standby to help in case of emergency, he said.

Domestic operators Indian Airlines said none of its flights to Goa had been cancelled, but flights may be diverted to nearby airports if the weather turned bad.

Philip Spencer, general manager of the five-star Goa Marriott Resort, said the sea was already very rough in the north of the state but there was not much wind.

"The waves are fairly high, and guests are not swimming in the sea," he said.

The nearby Fort Aguda Beach Resort said it had barred guests and staff from venturing onto its beach and placed eight lifeguards along its one-kilometer stretch.

Reuters contributed to this report.








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