Aid Reaches Cyclone-Hit Madagascar

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 27 Jan 1997
ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (Reuter) - The first planeload of aid reached southern Madagascar hit by a cyclone that left more than 30,000 people homeless and more than 100 dead or missing, state radio said on Monday.

It said the plane flew from the capital on Sunday to the southeastern port of Manakara, supplementing convoys of trucks ferrying food, medicine and building materials to hardest-hit areas.

Cyclone Gretelle swirled across the southern tip of the world's fourth largest island on Friday night with winds gusting up to 140 miles per hour, the worst to hit Madagascar in living memory.

Madagascar's foreign minister said on Sunday he had invited foreign and U.N. representatives to visit the area to assess what was most urgently needed to help the homeless.

Another aircraft was scheduled to leave Antananarivo on Monday to fly over the region, where all telephone links were cut by the cyclone except between the capital and Manakara.

Officials said more than 30,000 people were homeless after their flimsy rural dwellings were flattened by Cyclone Gretelle, which razed many villages to the ground in the disaster area.

Church bells sounded on Sunday as rescuers recovered bodies of victims drowned by the floods which covered wide areas.

Many villagers survived by clinging to trees to avoid being blown away and others survived on the roofs of buildings surrounded by flood waters. The radio said more than 100 people were killed or missing.

In the first detailed reports from Vangaindrano region, the radio said serious damage was also caused in Farafangana, Vohipeno, Manakara, Midongy and other towns in the area.

Cyclone Gretelle wreaked havoc in a rich farming zone producing coffee, bananas, oranges and lychees before heading into the Madagascar Channel towards Mozambique.

Late on Sunday it was reported to be centered 800 miles southwest of Madagascar and appeared to be moving towards South Africa.

"The people need medicine, emergency foodstuffs like oil and rice, and building materials," National Relief Committee secretary-general Cecelian Aurelien told Reuters.

Radio Madagascar has criticized the slow pace of a rescue effort and said there were no boats to reach the thousands of victims of the cyclone. Many boats had been swept out to sea by the flood waters.

With normal communications cut, there was no means of assessing the full extent of the disaster, the radio said.

On Sunday, the government set up a crisis centre in Antananarivo to coordinate the relief effort. Emergency supplies of rice were sent by road from Antsirabe, 100 miles south of the capital. Consignments of medical equipment, tents and other items were being organised, officials said.

In France, charities appealed for funds to help the homeless in the former French colony. Gretelle was the seventh tropical storm to hit Madagascar since the start of the cyclone season in October.

10:59 AM EST

Reuters Limited

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