Madagascar braces for cyclone blowing in from Indian Ocean

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — Madagascar is bracing for a new cyclone even as the Indian Ocean island recovers from a tropical storm that wreaked devastation last month.

Cyclone Batsirai is forecast to hit the island’s east coast on Saturday with heavy winds and rains, according to Madagascar’s Department of Meteorology.

The storm has already blown by the islands of Mauritius and Reunion, killing at least person in Mauritius and causing widespread power cuts.

In January, Cyclone Ana and other heavy rains in Madagascar caused 55 deaths and made 131,000 people homeless. About 15,000 people have not yet been able to return to their homes, according to the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management.

Batsirai (which means help in the Shona language) may be even more destructive and could force 150,000 people to leave their homes and badly affect about 595,000 others, according to officials.

“We must be very vigilant,” Gen. Elack Andriankaja, director-general of the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management, said Thursday. “The capital will not be spared ... We have already warned residents to leave areas at risk, such as the banks of rivers and the sea, areas vulnerable to landslides and houses that will not withstand gusts of wind and the onset of heavy rains.”

In Antananarivo, the capital, many low-lying neighborhoods that were flooded in January are expecting renewed inundation from the approaching cyclone.

“We must now prepare to welcome many more disaster victims than before,” Ranto Rakotonjanahary, director-general of the Authority for the Protection against Floods in the Antananarivo Plain, said.

The east coast of Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island, is already experiencing cloudy, windy weather as the cyclone approaches, according to the commander of the gendarmerie group of Vatomandry, Capt. Achille Rakotomavo.

“We are all preparing for the cyclone, in particular with the reinforcement of the roofs. We are using the radio to warn people who live near the sea. These people need to leave now,” he said.

Madagascar has suspended school classes from Friday.

“To prepare for the cyclone, people are putting sandbags on the roofs of their houses. Fishermen are no longer going out to sea,” said Asmina Baonantenaina, a resident of Tamatave, Madagascar’s second-largest city and largest port. As it is on the island’s east coast, 340 kilometers (211 miles) east of Antananarivo, Tamatave is expected to be the first center hit by Batsirai.

“We live 200 meters (218 yards) from the beach and we reinforced the fence of our yard,” she said. “Today, we are going to stock up on groceries because we were told that we should no longer go out on Saturday.”


AP journalist Wanjohi Kabukuru in Mombasa, Kenya, contributed.