Madagascar: Cyclone damage becomes clear

ANTANANARIVO, 23 January 2009 (IRIN)

  • New figures from Madagascar's National Office for Natural Disasters Preparedness (BNGRC) indicate that cyclone Fanele claimed eight lives and affected some 40,400 people.

Fanele, a category four cyclone, made landfall at the town of Morondava on the west coast of the Indian Ocean island in the early hours of 21 January. Only two days earlier tropical storm Eric caused severe destruction when it approached the island's east coast near Toamasina, Madagascar's largest port, and left one person dead.

"We now have eight people dead as a result of cyclone Fanele," Dia Styvanley Soa, spokeswoman for the BNGRC, told IRIN. "In the district of Beroroha one person was killed, and seven in the district of Ihorome [all on the western side of the island]. Eric killed one person in Amoron'i Mania, [on the eastern side], so the figure for Eric and Fanele is now nine dead."

In the worst affected region of Menabe, on the west coast, over 28,000 people have been affected by Fanele, including nearly 3,000 people left homeless in Morondava. "I lost my house when a tree fell over, destroying it," Bravo Rahajaharison, who lives in the town, told IRIN by phone. "We are without electricity - the situation is bad."

The BNGRC said a further 63,000 people were at risk in Menabe if heavy rain continued to fall. Relief teams are still assessing the damage caused by the two storms, and figures are expected to rise as more information on the full extent of the damage is gathered.

"The main problem now is getting clean water and nutrition to people in the most badly damaged areas," BNGRC deputy executive secretary, Dr Raymond Randriatahina, told IRIN. Cases of dysentery have already been reported in some areas.

"Where you have acute flooding there is always the concern that contaminated water will spread disease," Aurélien Demaurex, country director of international relief NGO, MedAir, told IRIN.

"People have to use whatever water is available to them for cooking and drinking. The most common illness is diarrhoea, but if the situation is very serious, cholera can also be a problem."

Out of the blue

Cyclone Fanele started as a storm in the Mozambique Channel and very quickly grew in intensity. "The problem with this cyclone is that it appeared very close to the coast, and in a very short time it gathered strength and hit the coast," said Demaurex. "That was a little surprising."

Residents in the storm's path were warned of the danger in national radio broadcasts as the cyclone approached and local fishermen were told to stay home.

The BNGRC is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the relief operation, and is implementing a new decentralised National Contingency plan for the first time this year. "Our plans to respond to cyclone catastrophes were already in place and we were well prepared for this," Randriatahina said.

Madagascar lies in the main path of storms crossing the Western Indian ocean and is battered by cyclones every year - as many as four of these destructive weather events may make landfall in the cyclone season between December and April. In February 2008 cyclone Ivan killed at least 83 people and left more than 200,000 homeless when it hit the east coast of Madagascar.