JOHANNESBURG, 3 April (IRIN) - A
powerful cyclone ripped through Madagascar on Monday with strong winds
and heavy rains causing fresh devastation in areas where the humanitarian
community was already helping people rebuild their lives after the destruction
wrought by two earlier cyclones.
The French and South African weather services said Cyclone Hudah, with winds of up to 300 kmh at its epicentre, was expected to cross the 400 km Mozambique Channel on a trajectory taking it straight towards Mozambique, the country which sustained the worst destruction in recent weeks. Hudah was forecast to reach the coastal town of Quelimane on Wednesday morning.
Weary humanitarian officials in both countries told IRIN they were again preparing for a new crisis barely six weeks after Madagascar and Mozambique were hit by cyclones Eline and Gloria.
The French and South African weather services said cyclone Hudah, described as "a very intense" tropical cyclone - the highest meteorological classification for such storms - had swept through the island in just over 12 hours.
Humanitarian officials in the capital, Antananrivo told IRIN on Monday, the storm, up to 500 km wide, hit the town of Antalaha about 9 pm local time (1800 gmt) on Sunday, bringing with it rain and winds across the northern half of the giant Indian Ocean island.
By Monday afternoon it was already sweeping into the Mozambique Channel. Weather officials said it was expected to grow in intensity over the ocean before making landfall again.
"What is really terrible is that we are all scrambling to find out what has happened in the Antalaha district," a humanitarian official told IRIN. "With the telephones and roads cut, it is extremely difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation. This is a part of northeast Madagascar which took the full brunt of the two previous cyclones, an area where the staple rice crops have already been destroyed."
Officials of WFP, UNICEF, UNDP and NGOs held meetings all day on Monday with the government disaster office, the Conseil national de secours (CNS), to devise emergency relief plans for implementation once the winds and rains have subsided sufficiently to enable them to conduct an aerial assessment survey.
The national radio in Antananarivo reported that at least one person was critically injured. Humanitarian officials said they would seek to verify as quickly as possible news reports that schools, a Red Cross building and the police station were among the buildings destroyed in Antalaha.
"All houses made of wood or iron sheeting in Antalaha are gone. Only concrete buildings are still standing," AP quoted Didier Young of Care International as saying.
Relief officials told IRIN that although it was too early to provide an assessment, they had heard reports that the towns of Maroantsetra and Andapa to the south of Antalaha had also sustained severe damage. The radio said areas of the town of Mananara Nord had also been flooded.
On Monday, national radio warned residents of Madagascar's northern tip to move to high ground and stock up on water, food and candles. Residents were also told to put sandbags on their roofs and move animals to areas not threatened by flooding.
For the past six weeks, UN agencies, NGOs and the government have ferried emergency supplies to the northeast. The CNS said 200 people had died in the earlier storms which had affected half a million people. Days before cyclone Hudah hit the island, it reported that 184,800 people were in need of immediate food and relief, and that 22,158 people had lost their homes.
As the humanitarian community in Mozambique readied itself for the new storm, the South African Weather Bureau said the cyclone was expected to make landfall Wednesday morning near the town of Quelimane in central Mozambique. Intense rainfall was likely as far south as the Save River, the scene of some of the worst damage from previous storms.
"Cyclone Hudah is expected to re-intensify from late afternoon (on Monday) as she tracks WSW over the northern Mozambique Channel," a weather bureau statement said.
"Current predictions are that she could make landfall in the Quelimane area by Wednesday, by which time the winds near the centre will be in excess of 100 kmh. Heavy rainfall (about 50 mm) is likely in the southern sector, possibly as far south as Vilancoulos." It said the southern parts of Mozambique were not likely to experience heavy rainfall from the cyclone.
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