Cyclone Batsirai wreaks havoc, knocks out power in Madagascar

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Strong winds, power blackouts and ravaged homes were left in the wake of Cyclone Batsirai in Madagascar as its eastern coastline was battered by extreme weather late on Saturday.

There were fears that Batsirai could compound the devastation wreaked by another cyclone, Ana, which hit the island just two weeks ago, killing 55 people.

A local weather bulletin said the Batsirai storm system hit an area about 14 km (nine miles) north of the town of Mananjary in Madagascar’s southeast at about 8 p.m. (5 p.m. GMT).

The cyclone had average winds of about 165 kilometers per hour (102 miles per hour), the bulletin said.

“The winds are terrible. I’ve never experienced this. Mananjary has never experienced such a situation. The waves are very high,” Hanitra Raharisoa, a resident of Mananjary, told Reuters by phone.

Another resident who gave only one name, Raharijaona, told Reuters also by phone the storm had knocked out the area’s power grid, felled trees and destroyed some homes.

In a bulletin earlier on Saturday, Madagascar’s weather service had said the cyclone was expected to cross the country from east to west, “remaining generally at a dangerous stage.”

The streets of the capital, Antananarivo, were quiet as many residents opted to stay indoors. Banks and some other businesses were shuttered.

At a shelter in the capital for people left homeless by Cyclone Ana, 20-year-old Faniry said early on Saturday she was too scared to venture outside as Batsirai approached.

“Cyclone Batsirai seems very strong,” she told Reuters, giving only her first name.

Around her, women and children sat huddled together on the floor alongside their belongings. “We are stuck here because we can’t bring our children outside because it’s cold and we are afraid of landslides. Better for us to be cautious and stay here,” Faniry said.

Ana battered the country last month, leaving at least 55 dead from landslides and collapsed buildings. The storm also left widespread flooding and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.

After ravaging Madagascar, Ana moved west, making landfall in Mozambique and continuing inland to Malawi. A total of 88 people died, including those in Madagascar.

Lalaina Randrianjatovo, a retired colonel who works as director of a rapid response unit in the ministry of population, told Reuters Batsirai’s path was likely to spare the capital but heavy rains were still expected.

“Strong rains will probably cause flooding,” he said, adding more people were expected to arrive at the Antananarivo shelter, which already houses about 1,500 people.

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