Madagascar port cut off by floods
TOAMASINA, Madagascar, May 12 (AFP) - Freak storms that have battered Madagascar relentlessly for four days left the main port city of Toamasina cut off Sunday from the rest of the Indian Ocean island nation, which is in the throes of a political crisis.
The rains, which followed a cyclone that killed two people on Thursday, began easing Sunday but the 165,000 inhabitants of Toamasina remained without electricity and fresh water, roads were impassable and poorer districts were under water.
Around 300 people, mainly women and children, were being accommodated at the city hall and a local sports centre, officials said.
"Their houses are under water," said a local official who gave his name only as Modeste, as he handed out packets of biscuits supplied by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The disaster victims spent the night on mats on the floor, waiting for the floodwaters to recede.
Emergency workers, meanwhile, were Sunday filling water containers for distribution to inhabitants.
The poor areas on the outskirts of the town remained submerged, with only rickshaws plying a route between two dry points.
In some areas, four-wheel drive vehicles managed to get through, while children made the most of the disaster by taking to the water at a local football stadium, inundated to the level of the tops of the goalposts.
Supporters of defeated president Didier Ratsiraka had, ironically, moved to isolate the capital Antananarivo from the rest of the island by blowing up bridges and erecting massive roadblocks.
Ratsiraka, who refuses to accept the results of a December presidential poll which saw his arch-rival, Marc Ravalomanana, being declared president by the Constitutional High Court almost two weeks ago, has set up a rival administration in Toamasina.
His supporters have blockaded roads to Antananarivo to prevent fuel and other vital supplies reaching Ravalomanana's stronghold.
Five of the country's six provinces, including Toamasina, have declared independence from Antananarivo in support of Ratsiraka.
On Friday, hopes for reconciliation in the deeply divided island state faded when the new prime minister announced he would exclude opponents from his government and peace talks between the rival leaders were postponed.
Jacques Sylla, who was named prime minister on Thursday, said his government would not, for the time being, include Ratsiraka's supporters.
The government will open up at a later stage, Sylla said, without giving a time frame.
Madagascar, one of the world's poorest countries, was battered by an intense typhoon in early March.
Almost two years earlier, in April 2000, Cyclone Hudah killed more than 100 people, devastated crops of rice, cloves and vanilla -- one of the island's principal sources of export revenue -- and left hundreds of thousands of people dependent on relief aid.
clc/bp/gd AFP 121424 GMT 05 02
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