Cyclone Batsirai killed at least six people and displaced nearly 48,000 when it struck Madagascar overnight, the national disaster management agency said on Sunday.
Cyclone Batsirai weakened overnight but not before wreaking havoc in the poor Indian Ocean island nation which is still reeling from a deadly tropical storm earlier this year.
The eastern district of Mananjary was lashed with heavy rains and wind before the cyclone made landfall, forcing local residents to weigh down flimsy corrugated iron roofs, an AFP correspondent saw.
The rain will cause flooding across parts of the country, Madagascar’s meteorological office said on Sunday.
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Batsirai made landfall in Mananjary on Saturday night as an “intense tropical cyclone”, packing winds of 165 kilometres per hour (102 miles per hour), Faly Aritiana Fabien of the country’s disaster management agency told AFP.
His colleague responsible for risk management in the same agency, Paolo Emilio Raholinarivo, listed the numbers of dead and their location in a text message to AFP, but gave no further details.
However the national meteorological office — which had warned of “significant and widespread damage” — said Sunday that “Batsirai has weakened”.
The cyclone’s average wind speed had almost halved to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour), while the strongest gusts had fallen back to 110 km/h from the 235 km/h recorded when it made landfall, Meteo Madagascar said.
Bodies emerge from cemetery
At a cemetery in the eastern town of Mahanoro, overlooking the sea, Marie Viviane Rasoanandrasana, sat on the ground watching over the bodies of her husband, her father-in-law and her daughter.
The waves of the rising sea eroded the sandy hill which was part of graveyard. Several graves were ripped open and some bodies, including those of her family, were exposed.
“A few days ago the sea was far away, but this morning I was told the waves had washed away part of the cemetery,” the 54-year-old unemployed widow said.
“We are sad,” she said. “We’ve already had damages at home because of the cyclone. Now this!”
“Daily life is already very hard,” she said, adding the family would be forced to rebury the remains in a temporary grave until they raise enough money for a “proper burial”.
“It’s not even a year since I tiled my daughter’s grave,” she said.
‘Government must help us’
The Meteo-France weather service had earlier predicted Batsirai would present “a very serious threat” to Madagascar, after passing Mauritius and drenching the French island of La Reunion with torrential rain for two days.
In the hours before the cyclone hit, residents hunkered down in the impoverished country, still recovering from Tropical Storm Ana late last month.
In the eastern coastal town of Vatomandry, more than 200 people were crammed in one room in a Chinese-owned concrete building.
Families slept on mats or mattresses.
Community leader Thierry Louison Leaby lamented the lack of clean water after the water utility company turned off supplies ahead of the cyclone.
“People are cooking with dirty water,” he said, amid fears waterborne bacteria could cause illness.
Plastic dishes and buckets were placed in a line outside to catch rainwater dripping from roofing sheets.
“The government must absolutely help us,” he said.
Residents who chose to remain in their homes used sandbags and yellow jerrycans to buttress their roofs before the storm hit.
At least 131,000 people were affected by Ana across Madagascar in late January. Close to 60 people were killed, mostly in the capital Antananarivo.
Ana also hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, causing dozens of deaths.
The UN’s World Food Programme pointed to estimates from national authorities that some 595,000 people could be directly affected by Batsirai, and 150,000 more might be displaced due to new landslides and flooding.
The storm poses a risk to at least 4.4 million people in total, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.