Seven confirmed dead after cyclone rips across north Madagascar
"I confirm (radio reports) that two people were killed near Mahajanga (in the northwest) and five were killed in Maroantsetra," on the northeastern coast, rescue service chief Lucille Randrianarivelo told a crisis meeting in Madagascar's central highland capital.
"We are also in the process of checking information that 18 people are reported missing in the town of Ambanja," also in the northwest, she told the meeting attended by representatives of the army, police, emergency services and weather department.
"Our efforts are now concentrated on the towns of Antalaha and Maroantsetra because they take priority," said Randrianarivelo.
The town of Antalaha in northeast Madagascar was almost entirely destroyed by Gafilo, which ripped across northern Madagascar on Saturday and Sunday, its winds swirling at 120 kilometers per hour (72 mph) with gusts of up to 180 kph, officials in the region said.
According to an initial damage assessment report released by Care International aid agency late Monday, "95 percent of homes" were destroyed in Antalaha, the coastal town where Gafilo touched land as it began its devastating sweep across the north.
Many of the town's inhabitants were injured when their houses collapsed, Care said.
"A Care International plane left Tuesday morning for Antalaha and helicopters will try to land this afternoon in the town of Maroantsetra, very hard to reach because of flooding," said rescue service chief Randrianarivelo.
Rice paddies on the outskirts of Antalaha 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 there.
"There will be no production this year," Ibrahim Dasy, head of Care in Antalaha, told AFP late 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 Monday, while another team comprising the interior, defense and health ministers went to the nearby coastal town of Sambava to evaluate the damage and needs of the local population there.
"The people mainly need construction material and food," said Dasy.
An AFP correspondent in Sambava said the cyclone had done little damage to the 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.
The Malagasy weather service warned Tuesday that, as predicted, the storm, which had moved offshore and was stationary in the Mozambique Channel late Monday, was on its way back to Madagascar.
"As we predicted yesterday (Monday) the cyclone has done a U-turn and begun heading in a south-southeasterly direction," the head of the meteorological service told AFP Tuesday.
"We are now certain that the cyclone will return to Madagascar on Wednesday morning, between the towns of Morondava and Tulear," on the southwest coast," said weather chief Alain Razafimahazo.
"But the cyclone, which was very strong to begin with, is now no more than a moderate tropical storm. Its winds are not very violent, averaging 95 kph with gusts at 120 kph," he said.
At noon (0900 GMT) Tuesday, the storm was 250 kilometers offshore Morondava, said Razafimahazo.
Copyright (c) 2004 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/09/2004 08:58:41
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