Cyclone Freddy’s battering winds make landfall in Madagascar

February 21, 2023 GMT
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This image from Meteosat-9 satellite shows Tropical Cyclone Freddy, right, and Madagascar on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Schools, businesses and public transportation shut down before Freddy made landfall Tuesday evening, battering the island with strong winds and rain. (NOAA via AP)
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This image from Meteosat-9 satellite shows Tropical Cyclone Freddy, right, and Madagascar on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Schools, businesses and public transportation shut down before Freddy made landfall Tuesday evening, battering the island with strong winds and rain. (NOAA via AP)

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — A slightly weakened Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall Tuesday on the east coast of Madagascar, with schools, businesses and public transportation shut down as strong winds and rain lashed the island.

The cyclone packed winds gusting to 180 kilometers per hour (about 111 mph), with waves higher than 15 meters (about 49 feet) battering the coast. The storm was already blamed for at least one death, a 27-year-old man who drowned near the port of Mahanoro, the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management reported.

“There is rain, but the worst thing is the wind. It blows a lot. We haven’t seen if there’s any damage yet because we’re locked in. We stocked up on vegetables, rice, and oil,” Gérard, a restaurant owner and resident of Nosy Varika, a commune in northern Mananjary, said.

“We put all our things up high and left the house this afternoon as it is by the river. The children, the women and the old, like me, we went to more secure houses with a member of our family,” said Gerard, who like many on the island goes by a single name.

Freddy was striking with the force of a Category 3 hurricane on an island already battered in January by Tropical Storm Cheneso, which killed at least 30 people. Madagascar’s National Office for Risk and Disaster Management prepared food rations and mapped distribution for regions expected to be affected by the cyclone this week.

The disaster office also secured schools and public buildings, which were converted to temporary storm shelters for residents evacuated from flood-prone areas.

Meteo-France, the French national meteorological service, said Freddy was following the same path as Cyclone Batsirai, another deadly storm that ravaged Madagascar one year ago. Batsirai and another cyclone, Emnati, killed more than 200 people and affected 460,000 during last year’s cyclone season.

“There are some violent winds. These are less strong than what was forecast in advance,” Nahdi Hasinjatovo, of the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management, said. He said about 5,000 people in the districts of Ifanadiana, Nosy Varika and Mananjary have been moved to shelters.

Five regions and four districts on the East Coast and Southeast Madagascar have been placed on red alert by the weather directorate.

“We fled the cyclone, and we asked the nuns to welcome us because our house is not solid,” said Christophine Boetia, of Mananjary, a port city of about 25,000 people.

“There is no one on the streets anymore. We have been preparing for two days reinforcing the roofs of houses by placing sandbags on them. Currently, the wind is blowing a lot and the electricity has been cut,” Zaonarivelo, another resident, said.

The humanitarian charity Save the Children projected that Freddy could affect more than 2 million people, including 1 million children. The United Nations’ humanitarian office estimated the cyclone will affect more than 3 million people in its path, including mainland Africa, where it is expected to dissipate over the weekend.

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Associated Press writer Wanjohi Kabukuru contributed from Mombasa, Kenya.

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