Cyclone wreaks havoc on island

The town of Antalaha in northeast Madagascar was almost entirely destroyed by Cyclone Gafilo, which ripped across the northern tip of the Indian Ocean island state at the weekend, the Care aid agency said on Monday.

According to an initial damage assessment report released by Care late on Monday, “95% of homes” were destroyed in Antalaha, the coastal town where Gafilo touched land on Saturday when it began its devastating sweep across northern Madagascar.

Many of the town’s inhabitants were injured when their houses collapsed, Care said.

National radio has said at least seven people were killed by Gafilo’s passage, but Interior Minister General Soja was unable to confirm the toll.

“We have sent two planes [Monday] to the towns of Sambava and Antalaha. I cannot confirm the deaths announced on the radio.
Another plane will fly over the town of Maroantsetra, which was also apparently hard hit,” he said late on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reported that about 100 people were feared dead after a ferry they were travelling on failed to arrive in Madagascar on Monday.

The news agency said the last contact with the ferry was on Sunday night when it was cruising 90 nautical miles north of Mahajanga, the second commercial port of Madagascar. The ferry belongs to a local shipowner, according to shipping sources.

An official with a fishing company told Reuters that the ferry had left the Comoran island of Anjouan for Mahajanga, where about 30 000 immigrants from Comoros, a chain of tiny Indian Ocean islands, live.

“Many family members and friends of the passengers have been waiting at the port, where the boat was expected to arrive on Monday morning,” the fishing company official told Reuters.

Foreign Minister Marcel Ranjeva appealed on Monday for international aid.

As the cyclone passed over the northern areas of Madagascar, only larger, sturdier homes in Antalaha were spared. Rice paddies on the outskirts of the town were destroyed as was much of the vanilla crop. Northeast Madagascar is known as the island’s vanilla triangle, with much of the aromatic pod being grown and processed here.

“There will be no production this year,” Ibrahim Dasy, head of Care in Antalaha, said late on Monday.

“The situation is catastrophic. It looks like it did after Cyclone Hudah in April 2000.”

An official delegation led by Prime Minister Jacques Sylla visited Antalaha late on Monday, while another team comprising the interior, defence and health ministers went to Sambava to evaluate the damage and needs of the local population there.

On Monday, the Malagasy National Rescue Centre airlifted sacks of rice and medicine to the two northern towns.

“The people mainly need construction material and food,” said Dasy. An AFP correspondent in Sambava said the cyclone had done little damage to the coastal town. That report was confirmed by a local official.

“The town was flooded on Sunday, but the level of seawater then subsided and people have already returned to their homes,” said Sambava town official Jacob Nazir.

At 6pm (3pm GMT) on Monday, Gafilo was stationary in the Mozambique Channel, about 120km off the western town of Maintirano, the weather service said.

Its winds had dropped, but the storm was “regaining in intensity as it came into contact with the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel”, said Alain Razafimahazo, head of Madagascar’s meteorological service, Monday.

It could then “turn around and hit Madagascar again ... in the Tulear region”, in the southwest of the island, he said, adding later Monday that Gafilo was not expected to touch land again before Wednesday.

A forecaster at the South African Weather Bureau told the Mail & Guardian Online he expected the cyclone to make a second pass over the island in the next 36 hours. He said cyclones were very unpredictable but that it could subside over the next three or four days. - AFP

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