ANTANANARIVO, 25 February 2013 (IRIN) - National disaster authorities and aid agencies are struggling to reach remote areas of Madagascar's southwestern coast where thousands of people are thought to have been made homeless by Tropical Cyclone Haruna, which made landfall on 22 February as a powerful category two cyclone.
According to the country's National Disaster Risk Management Office (BNGRC), over 17,000 people have been affected by the storm, with 13 reported deaths and about 1,500 houses destroyed or flooded. Speed boats and traditional boats were mobilized over the weekend to rescue people stranded in trees and on rooftops.
The most affected districts are Morombe and Toliary, where a burst dyke in an area called Fiherenana caused widespread flooding. According to BNGRC, 25,000 people may need to be evacuated as moderate rains are expected to continue over the next few days.
The government, NGOs and UN partners started distributing food aid to 3,000 people in six shelters in Toliary on 24 February. "Today [25 February], we reached another 4,800 people. Our emergency food supplies have come in, so now we can also hand out biscuits and rice, so people can get through the first five days," Willem van Milink, the World Food Programme's (WFP) country representative, told IRIN.
Initial situation assessments by local authorities and humanitarian partners also started on 24 February, but bad weather over the weekend made it impossible to fly over the area. "There is a whole area behind Morombe that we don't know about yet," he said.
"Morombe is a small town and has relatively a lot of damage. The problem is that it is completely cut off. The helicopters can't really carry anything, and the road is inaccessible, so we're trying to see if we can reach people by boat," he added.
Rescue operations have been further complicated by the unexpected location of the flooding in the normally arid southwest. "Most of the WFP and other NGOs' emergency stock is located in the east of the country, as that is where the cyclones usually hit. So we had to send four trucks of supplies from Tamatave, on the east coast, to Toliary," van Milink said.
Power has not yet been fully restored in Toliary, Morombe, Sakaraha or Betioky Sud. The outage has disrupted the fuel supply and the functioning of hospitals and other key services.
After houses are rebuilt, WFP and partners will assess the region's food security. Many farmers in the south grow corn, which was ripe at the time of the cyclone. It is not yet known how much damage has been done to the harvest.
Madagascar is extremely vulnerable to floods and cyclones during the rainy season, which stretches from October to April. Tropical Cyclone Felleng passed by the eastern coast of Madagascar in January, causing the deaths of nine people and displacing 1,300, all of whom have since returned to their homes.