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Cyclone Batsirai makes landfall in Madagascar

Cyclone Batsirai has weakened overnight but floods are still expected due to heavy rain after it hit eastern Madagascar with strong winds.

“Batsirai has weakened,” Meteo Madagascar said on Sunday, adding that the cyclone’s average wind speed had almost halved to 80 kilometres per hour, while the strongest gusts had scaled back to 110 km/h from the 235 km/h recorded when it made landfall on Saturday evening.

The cyclone, the second storm to hit the large Indian Ocean island nation in just a few weeks, was moving westwards at a rate of 19 km/h.

But “localised or generalised floods are still feared following the heavy rains,” the island’s meteorological office said, adding that Batsirai should emerge at sea in the Mozambique Channel later on Sunday.

Batsirai made landfall in Mananjary district, more than 530 kilometres southeast of the capital Antananarivo, around 1700 GMT on Saturday.

It reached the island as an “intense tropical cyclone”, packing winds of 165 kilometres per hour, Faly Aritiana Fabien of the country’s disaster management agency said.

The national meteorological office has said it fears “significant and widespread damage”.

Just an hour and a half after it first hit land, nearly 27,000 people had been counted as displaced from their homes, Fabien said.

In the eastern coastal town of Vatomandry, more than 200 people were crammed in one room in a Chinese-owned concrete building. 

He said his office has accommodation sites, food and medical care ready for victims, as well as search and rescue plans already in place.

Families slept on mats or mattresses.

Community leader Thierry Louison Leaby lamented the lack of clean water after the water utility company turned off supplies ahead of the cyclone.

“People are cooking with dirty water,” he said, amid fears of a diarrhoea outbreak.

Outside plastic dishes and buckets were placed in a line to catch rainwater dripping from the corrugated roofing sheets.

“We have been stocking up for a week, rice but also grains because with the electricity cuts we cannot keep meat or fish,” said Odette Nirina, a 65-year-old hotelier in Vatomandry. 

The disaster agency said the cyclone was expected to remain “dangerous” as it swept across the large island overnight and in the morning.

At least 131,000 people were affected by Ana across Madagascar in late January. Close to 60 people were killed, mostly in the capital Antananarivo.

The storm poses a risk to at least 4.4 million people in one way or another, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

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