LONDON — More than two dozen people are dead and thousands are homeless after a tropical storm struck Madagascar over the weekend, the second to batter the island nation since the start of the year.
With wind gusts of up to about 143 miles per hour, Cyclone Batsirai made landfall on Madagascar’s eastern coast late Saturday before sweeping across the central and southern parts on Sunday. The storm departed Madagascar on Monday morning and returned to sea, but heavy rainfall is forecast for southern Madagascar through Tuesday, according to the country’s meteorology department, fueling fears of more flooding.
The cyclone’s powerful winds and torrential rains flooded roads and farmland, ripped roofs from homes and buildings and knocked down trees and utility poles. The hardest-hit areas were on the eastern side of the country, though the full scope of the damage was still being assessed.
According to Madagascar’s National Office for Risk and Disaster Management, more than 72,000 people have been impacted by Batsirai, which was classified by the country’s meteorology department as dangerous. Over 62,000 people have been displaced from their homes and at least 27 have died.
At least three children under the age of 12 were among the dead, according to United Kingdom-based international charity Save the Children, which cited Madagascar’s risk and disaster management office.
Hundreds schools were affected by the storm, leaving an estimated 9,271 children out of school. The cyclone also damaged various infrastructure, including at least 17 roads and 17 bridges, leaving some of the worst-affected areas inaccessible by road. Some towns suffered disruptions to power and water supplies, the country’s risk and disaster management office said.
The World Food Program, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, has started distributing hot meals to 4,000 evacuated and displaced people in shelters in coordination with Madagascan authorities. Pasqualina DiSirio, the World Food Program’s director for Madagascar, warned that the number of storm victims could “easily rise.”
“We have right now, still waters increasing in the canals, in the rivers, and people are still in danger,” DiSirio said in a statement Monday. “We know for sure that rice fields, that rice crops will be damaged. This is the main crop for Malagasy people and they will be seriously affected in food security in the next three to six months if we don’t do something immediately and we don’t help them recover.”
Humanity & Inclusion, a France-based independent charity that has worked in Madagascar for over 30 years, has a 163-person team on the ground helping Madagascan authorities evaluate and respond to the disaster. Vincent Dalonneau, Humanity & Inclusion’s director for Madagascar, said the effects of Batsirai “are devastating.”
“The amount of destruction is significant and for many this is only the beginning. The storm may have passed, but now the affected communities must restart from scratch — rebuilding their homes, schools and hospitals,” Dalonneau told ABC News on Monday night. “Right now, we only have initial estimates of the damage caused. What remains a great challenge is that more isolated areas have yet to be assessed. So, we expect to see the extent of destruction rising in the coming days as we get a clearer image of the situation.”
Dalonneau said some isolated villages are more than a two-day walk away, which make damage assessments and aid deliveries even more difficult.
One of the affected residents was a 32-year-old single mother named Josephine. She said she and her young daughter evacuated their home near the eastern city of Mahanoro on Friday night amid heavy rain. When they returned, Josephine said their house was “completely destroyed,” according to Humanity & Inclusion.
Batsirai, which means help in Shona, an official language in Zimbabwe, arrived less than two weeks after Tropical Storm Ana barreled through southeastern Africa, killing scores of people in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi.
The Madagascan government declared a state of emergency on Jan. 27 due to Ana.