ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — Torrential winds and rain from Cyclone Batsirai are battering Madagascar, after making landfall on the island’s east coast on Saturday evening.
About 45,000 people have been displaced by the tropical storm, the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management said on Sunday.
After gaining strength in the Indian Ocean with strong winds reaching highs of 145 miles per hour, the cyclone made landfall near Mananjary, 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of the capital Antananarivo, according to the the island’s meteorological department.
Now that Batsirai – which means help in the Shona language – is on land, its winds have slowed to around 80 miles per hour.
Residents of Mananjary, the neighboring towns of Manakara and Nosy Varika, report that the cyclone caused extensive damage by blowing off the roofs of houses, knocking down trees and electricity poles, making roads impassable and flooding many areas.
Joellah Razanivomanana had a sleepless night after her house was damaged.
“The roof is gone!” Razanivomanana, 21, told The Associated Press. “We haven’t slept all night. We took shelter under the table and under the bed because we were afraid that the house would fall on us. She said many trees, including tall coconut palms, were toppled by the winds.
“Almost all the houses collapsed and the roofs were blown off. So almost all of us in Mananjary are affected,” Razanivomanana said.
“It’s like after a fire. All that remains are the frames of the wooden houses,” Razanivomanana said. “Even the concrete walls are cracked. Everyone says it’s the strongest cyclone they’ve ever seen.
Razanivomanana says it’s hard to find food.
“Those who stocked up before the cyclone have enough to eat and they sell some of their rice to other people,” she said. “We try to help each other.”
Mananjary is “devastated”, said Jeremia Razafiharimanana, of the coastal city’s risk and disaster management office. He said the city has been without power since Friday evening.
Much of Madagascar is already waterlogged due to Tropical Storm Ana and heavy rains in January and the new cyclone adds to the damage.
Batsirai is classified as a dangerous storm and is expected to inflict “significant and widespread damage, particularly flooding in the east, southeast and central highlands,” the meteorology department said in a statement.
Further inland, Antananarivo, the capital, experienced rains before the cyclone and residents put sandbags on their roofs to protect themselves from the winds.
Anticipating widespread destruction, most land and sea transport has been suspended in Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island.
“Almost all parts of the island are at risk,” the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management said, warning that the cyclone threatens nearly 600,000 of the island’s 28 million people.