Cyclone Fanele hits west coast of Madagascar

January 21, 2009 1:23:21 PM PST
A powerful cyclone hit the west coast of Madagascar Wednesday, destroying buildings, flooding large areas and cutting off thousands of people, officials said.Cyclone Fanele made landfall on the African island nation at dawn, said Dia Styvanley Soa of the National Office for Disasters Preparedness. She said there was heavy rain and winds of up to 130 miles per hour (210 kph).

The western town of Morondava, a regional hub and home to about 30,000 people, was left without water or electricity, Styvanley Soa's office said. Damaged buildings included some schools and churches that had been identified as emergency refuge centers.

Flooding in the area was reported to be severe. About 9,400 people were isolated in one district where half the land was under water. Casualty figures have not yet been released.

"We are very worried," Styvanley Soa told The Associated Press.

She said relief efforts have begun. Five tons of rice as well as supplies of soap, clothes and mosquito nets have been dispatched to the region.

On Monday, a less powerful cyclone skirted Madagascar's eastern coast, killing one person and leaving 27 injured and 992 homeless.

Forecasters have warned that a warmer-than-average summer in the southern hemisphere could mean stronger storms for cyclone-prone Madagascar this year.

Madagascar lies in the main storm path of the Indian Ocean basin. It normally has three or four major cyclones each year. Cyclones Fame, Ivan and Jokwe killed more than 100 people in Madagascar in 2008 and affected a further 300,000.

A new disaster management plan put in place this year is expected to yield a quicker response by local authorities and relief packages of tents, water pumps and food have been distributed in advance.