Cyclone Enawo batters Madagascar, threatens capital

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Tropical cyclone Enawo struck Madagascar on Tuesday, buffeting the island with powerful winds, heavy rain and high seas and threatening to cause chaos in the capital, the country’s weather agency said.

No reports of injuries or damage were reported six hours after the cyclone hit the large Indian Ocean island.

“Enawo made landfall and struck… with terrible winds of 210 km/h (130 mph) with some gales of 290 km/h” from around midday (0900 GMT) Tuesday, said Samueline Rahariveloarimiza, the head of Madagascar’s Weather Service.

She warned that the capital Antananarivo was in “imminent danger” with the cyclone expected to reach the city of 1.4 million people on Wednesday.

The cyclone was weakening as it moved inland at 5 kilometres per hour, the weather service’s chief forecaster Rivo Randrianarison announced on radio.

The entire north of the island nation, which lies 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of mainland Africa, is on “red alert”, Rahariveloarimiza told AFP.

Strong winds and heavy rain have been battering Antalaha and Cape Masoala in the country’s northeast since Monday.

The island’s north is particularly exposed to extreme weather systems.

“Currently the cyclone is affecting half of Madagascar, in the northern part,” said Randrianarison.

The cyclone is expected to leave Madagascar on Thursday.

Residents in Enawo’s path have been advised in recent days to evacuate low-lying areas, seek shelter and stock up on food and water.

Rescue teams were deployed across the island ahead of the arrival of Enawo, strongest storm to hit the country since 2012.

“If it maintains its strength and performs as predicted, there could be significant wind damage across the island, and we could be facing serious floods and landslides,” Getachew Taa’, a senior official with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in East Africa said in a statement.

More than 700 000 people could be affected by the cyclone, according to the Red Cross, which has deployed 500 volunteers.

Madagascar’s storm season normally runs from November through February and claims dozens of lives every year.

In 2012, tropical storm Irina and tropical cyclone Giovanna claimed more than 100 lives.

The Indian Ocean island has suffered severe drought and food shortages since 2015, with the southern region the worst affected.

– By AFP