Cyclone demolishes Madagascar town, heads for Mozambique
After demolishing nearly every building in the northeastern Madagascar city of Antalaha on Monday, Cyclone Hudah was steaming straight for flood-ravaged Mozambique on Tuesday. Although weakened after passing over northern Madagascar, Hudah will strengthen as it passes over the Mozambique Channel and could deluge area's of Mozambique still struggling to recover from two other storms that hit the area over the past two months, meteorologists warned.
Two people were reported dead Monday in Antalaha, where thousands of residents were left without power and phone service. Officials believe that Antalaha was the worst-hit area. "Most buildings not made of concrete were totally destroyed and many others seriously damaged," Matthew Hatchwell, spokesperson for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Antalaha, told journalists. "An entire neighborhood of wooden houses was flattened."
Hudah drifted off the northwest coast of Madagascar Monday morning after making landfall near Antalaha 12 hours earlier. The storm packed average winds of 100 kph (62 mph) with gusts reaching 148 kph (92 mph) on Monday morning. The cyclone, now downgraded to a tropical storm, was located over the Mozambique Channel on Tuesday, moving slowly toward Mozambique.
Residents of northern Madagascar said Hudah had caused significant damage to property, with the coast also battered by waves up to 8 meters (26 feet) high. Many of those whose flimsy thatch-roofed homes were destroyed in the earlier cyclones had only recently managed to rebuild them.
Residents of northeastern Madagascar picked through the wreckage Tuesday left by the storm and fashioned makeshift shelters from the debris. Relief officials worried about possible food shortages because the storm destroyed food storage warehouses and access to the area was limited.
The road between Antalaha and its airport was cleared on Monday so relief supplies could be airlifted to the town in the coming days, officials said. But highways to the area, which is in the center of Madagascar's vanilla growing region, were cut off. Seas remained too rough to ferry emergency rations by boat.
Madagascar's Prime Minister Tantely Andrianarivo flew to Antalaha on Tuesday morning to meet with local officials and tour the town. Aid agencies and the National Disaster Committee also scheduled several aerial surveys of Hudah's destruction.
Andapa, a northern town hit hard by flooding and mudslides during a tropical storm last month, also reported heavy damage to buildings and homes. A resort at the coastal town of Cap Est was flattened, and the coastal town of Maroantsetra also was flooded, National Disaster Committee officials said.
Aid officials said it was too early to know the extent of damage to important crops in the region, including vanilla. Two other major storms that hit Madagascar in the last two months already caused serious damage to vanilla, coffee plantations, fruit trees, and paddy crop, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Tropical storm warnings for the region were broadcast late on Saturday on national radio and television. Relief agency leaders met in Antananarivo on Sunday to make plans to provide disaster assistance after the latest storm hit the cyclone-ravaged country. World Food Program Representative Salha Haladou said aid organizations were planning to conduct survey flights over the northeast as soon as weather permitted.
Cyclone Hudah struck the same region Tropical Storm Gloria passed over a month ago. Gloria flooded rice fields and killed dozens of people in flash floods and mudslides, forcing residents to depend on food aid from relief agencies.
Two weeks before Gloria, Cyclone Eline destroyed the homes or crops of more than 40,000 people on much of the eastern coast of the Indian Ocean island. The death toll from the earlier cyclones in Madagascar has yet to be determined. Many of the areas affected lack efficient communications and have minimal health facilities.
The cyclones, along with heavy downpours typical of the region's rainy season, have caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their homes, belongings, and crops in Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and several other Southern African countries since February.
Continuing bad weather has washed away one harvest and left the ground too soggy for the March-April planting. The next planting is scheduled for September, with harvest six to eight weeks later. The people of the countries worst affected by the floods will need to rely on basic food support from outside aid at least until then.
What the Red Cross Is Doing
An appeal launched by the Red Cross in March to assist 100,000 of the worst affected people in Madagascar will bring immediate relief in the form of food, shelter, soap, and water purification tablets. Providing clean water and sanitation facilities will also be the backbone of a long-term rehabilitation plan.
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