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Cyclone Belal hits France’s Reunion Island, Mauritius on high alert

In World
January 15, 2024

A tropical cyclone hit the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean on Monday, bringing intense rains and powerful winds and leaving about a quarter of households without electricity and tens of thousands of homes without water, authorities said.

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Nearby Mauritius was also on high alert as authorities there said they expected to feel the effects of Cyclone Belal as it made its way through the southwestern Indian Ocean.

In Reunion, local authorities said that the highest alert level — or purple alert — that was announced on Sunday had been lifted after the worst of the storm had passed. But residents were still urged to remain sheltered indoors and heavy rains and winds of up to 170 kilometers per hour (105 miles per hour) were expected to continue blowing on the island of about 860,000 people.

Belal’s intensity appeared to be slightly decreasing, the prefecture of Reunion said in a statement. Some 8-meter (26-feet) high waves have been recorded, it said.

Many people had lost internet and phone services, and a homeless person who was not in a shelter was found dead in Saint-Gilles, on the island’s west coast. The circumstances of the death were unclear.

Under the purple alert, people were told to stay at home and even emergency services were under lockdown. French weather forecaster Meteo France said Belal reached Reunion on Monday morning local time, bringing “heavy rains, sometimes stormy, very violent winds and powerful and raging seas.”

Prefect Jérôme Filippini, the island’s top government administrator, had warned that there could be flood surges at levels unseen for a century and forecasters feared the storm could be the island’s most destructive since the 1960s.

‘Direct threat for Mauritius’

Mauritius, some 220 kilometers northeast of Reunion, was also expected to be battered by the storm.

“On this trajectory Belal is dangerously approaching Mauritius and it represents a direct threat for Mauritius,” Mauritius’ national meteorological service said. It said that Belal’s outer winds were likely to impact the southern part of the island late Monday and early Tuesday morning.

The Mauritius government held meetings of its National Crisis Committee to put in place disaster management plans.

Cyclones are common between January and March in southern Africa as oceans in the southern hemisphere reach their warmest temperatures. The hotter water is fuel for cyclones.

Scientists say human-caused climate change has intensified extreme weather, making cyclones more frequent and rainier when they hit. Some climate scientists have identified a direct link between global warming and the intensity of some cyclones in the region.

In 2019, Cyclone Idai ripped into Africa from the Indian Ocean, leaving more than 1,000 people dead in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe and causing a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations said it was one of the deadliest storms on record in the southern hemisphere.

(AP)

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