Residents of the island of Reunion are confined to homes when tropical cyclone Batsirai passes
At least 12 people were injured in La Reunion’s territory in the French Indian Ocean on Thursday as tropical cyclone Batsirai swept around the island, hitting it with torrential rain and strong winds, leaving all residents trapped in their homes.
The island was put on red alert on Wednesday, forcing its 860,000 inhabitants to barricade themselves indoors, with the eye of the intense cyclone expected to pass nearly 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the coast early Thursday.
“The worst is not over,” said La Reunions prefect Jacques Billant, warning that the island will be hit by heavy rain when the storm subsides.
Of those injured, 10 had “carbon monoxide poisoning”, one firefighter was “electrified” when he participated in a roof fire and another was injured after “a fall from a roof”, he told a press conference.
The weather agency Meteo-France confirmed to AFP on Thursday that the cyclone was about to pass about 180 kilometers off the coast of La Reunion, but would hit later than expected “during the morning” on Thursday as it had slowed down during the night.
The warning came after Batsirai left thousands of homes without power in Mauritius east of Wednesday, but passed over the island without causing major damage despite cyclone winds halting life.
The cyclone passed within 130 kilometers (80 miles) of the popular holiday destination, leading to heavy rainfall and winds of 120 kilometers per hour before moving on with La Reunion in sight.
At 06:30 (0230 GMT), the storm remained an “intense tropical cyclone” as it approached La Reunion, which is about 200 kilometers from the island and moves at nine kilometers per hour, said the prefecture of La Reunion.
The red alert – the third of four in the hurricane alert scale – for the island “remains in full force”, it said.
It left the island’s airport closed, shops closed and major roads closed to residents as they crouched down and waited for the cyclone to pass.
Heavy rain “to come” Batsirai remains “very concentrated” but will emit significant amounts of rain with the weather deteriorating even if the night had passed “relatively well”, Meteo-France said.
“Most of the precipitation is still coming because it is at the back” in Batsirai’s formation, it said.
Strong winds of up to 150 kmh have been reported on the island, according to the authority, compared to intense gusts of 260 kmh at sea.
Heavy rains have hit the island since noon on Wednesday, and the majority are falling south, including one meter within 24 hours in the uninhabited region of Piton de la Fournaise, Meteo-France said.
The island is regularly threatened by tropical cyclones. One caused severe floods in 2018, while the last devastating cyclone that hit the island came in 2007 and killed two people and caused extensive damage.
After passing La Reunion, Batsirai is set to touch Madagascar’s east coast of southern Africa by the end of the week, according to Meteo-France forecast, potentially on par with an “intense tropical cyclone” that could have a “major” impact on the region.
Other tropical storms and torrential rains have wreaked havoc in southern Africa in recent days, leaving a trail of destruction in their tracks.
Tropical storm Ana claimed the lives of 86 people in Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi last week.