Four dead after powerful cyclone Freddy hits Madagascar

ANTANANARIVO: A powerful cyclone tracked across Madagascar on Wednesday, killing four people, as it headed towards Mozambique, disaster management authorities said. A 27-year-old man drowned in rising sea waters just before Cyclone Freddy made landfall on the Indian Ocean island on Tuesday evening, packing winds of around 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour).

The authorities on Wednesday morning said the toll had risen to four. Around 16,600 people were affected and more than 6,750 homes damaged, the National Risk Management Office (BNGRC) said, also giving a provisional assessment. France’s weather service Meteo-France said Freddy weakened as it began its path across the island, and now had an average wind speed of 55 kph, gusting to 75 kph. Risk management senior official Faly Aritiana Fabien described Freddy as “one of the strongest cyclones” in recent times to hit the island, which is typically lashed several times during the annual November-April storm season.

The storm brought less rain than feared but still ripped roofs off buildings and flattened rice fields and fruit trees. It made landfall north of Mananjary, a coastal town of 25,000 people that remains devastated by last year’s Cyclone Batsirai, which killed more than 130 people across Madagascar.

“It’s a dry cyclone compared to Batsirai, so it brought less rains, but the winds were stronger, this is why infrastructure was badly affected,” Fabien told AFP. “The recorded damage is almost only related to the wind.”

‘Can’t take this’

As Freddy closed in after brushing Mauritius and the French island of La Reunion to the north without causing major damage, the authorities put in place an array of measures. Several regions on Tuesday suspended school classes for the rest of the week and at least 8,000 people were evacuated as a precaution in Mananjary. By daybreak, residents there were out on the streets to assess the damage. Despite thousands of sandbags used to reinforce roofs, metal sheets and electric cables were strewn on the ground by the force of the wind.

Pascal Salle sobbed as he assessed the damage after hardly recovering from last year’s Cyclone Batsirai. “I didn’t think there was a more powerful cyclone than Batsirai,” he said. “My fence is down, my 1,000-litre (250-gallon) plastic water tank was smashed against the neighbour’s wall”. A window was ripped off his house and the garden transformed into “a sandy field”, he said. “I can’t take this every year, it’s not possible,” he said.

Mozambique next

Freddy is the first cyclone and the second tropical weather system to hit during Madagascar’s current season, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. The storm began to brew in the first week of February off the northwest of Australia and south of Indonesia and is now in its third week trekking across the Indian Ocean.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) had estimated more than 2.3 million people in Madagascar could be affected. The cyclone coincides with a months-long drought in the southern part of the island that has inflicted widespread hunger. Freddy is expected to make landfall on Mozambique on Friday as a likely tropical storm, bringing the risk of heavy rain, according to forecasts. – AFP

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