Le Pays De France - Cyclone Batsirai weakens after displacing thousands in Madagascar

Paris -
Cyclone Batsirai weakens after displacing thousands in Madagascar
Cyclone Batsirai weakens after displacing thousands in Madagascar

Cyclone Batsirai weakens after displacing thousands in Madagascar

Cyclone Batsirai weakened overnight but not before pummelling Madagascar and displacing 27,000 people in a country still reeling from a deadly tropical storm weeks earlier.

Text size:

The cyclone brought heavy rains that will cause flooding across parts of the large Indian Ocean island, Madagascar's meteorological office said on Sunday.

Batsirai made landfall in the eastern district of 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.

Just an hour and a half after it first hit land, 26,890 people had been counted as displaced from their homes, Fabien added.

Authorities were yet to provide updates on Sunday.

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 scaled back to 110 km/h from the 235 km/h recorded when it made landfall, Meteo Madagascar said.

- Bodies emerge from cemetery -

Even the dead were not spared by the storm.

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".

In a country where life after death is as important as life itself, the latest blow compounds the tragedy of Rasoanandrasana's family.

"It's not even a year since I tiled my daughter's grave."

- '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 of a diarrhoea outbreak.

Plastic dishes and buckets were placed in a line outside to catch rainwater dripping from the corrugated 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 one way or another, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.