Madagascar Battered by Third-Biggest Cyclone on Record

Updated on
  • Not clear if any damage to world’s biggest vanilla-bean crop
  • Storm named Enawo is Category Four, second most severe rating

Madagascar is being struck by the third-most intense tropical cyclone ever to make landfall on the Indian Ocean island.

The storm named Enawo was approaching Antananarivo, the capital, on Wednesday morning, according to the local meteorological office. At least three people have died and 468 others were driven from their homes, AFP reported, citing the national disaster management agency.

Cyclone Enawo in Sambava, March 7.

Photographer: Manny Horsford/AP Photos

Enawo reached Category Four status before hitting the northeastern coastline about 11 a.m. local time Tuesday. That’s the second most severe storm classification, which can see winds of 130-156 miles (209-251 kilometers) per hour. Rainfall could exceed 16 inches (406 millimeters) in many parts of the island, according to Weather Underground.

“Severe impacts are likely from the storm’s torrential rains, high winds, and large storm surge,” said Jeff Masters, Weather Underground’s co-founder.

It’s one of the 10 countries most at risk from the effects of global warming, according to the Washington-based lender. It has about a 60 percent market share of the vanilla bean market, according to Aust & Hachmann (Canada) Ltd.

The northern half of the island was put on red alert on Wednesday, including Antananarivo, with wind gusts of up to 130 kilometers, according to the country’s meteorological office. The storm has weakened since making landfall, as it loses its heat source from the warm ocean waters, and will track southward down Madagascar’s eastern coastline, affecting most of the island before moving away by Friday, according to the local meteorological office.

Sherritt International Corp. of Canada, Sumitomo Corp. of Japan and Korea Resources own the Ambatovy nickel mine in the island’s east. All non-essential personnel have been asked to stay home because of the cyclone, although operations there are continuing, Ambatovy said Tuesday in an emailed response to questions.

Vanilla Production

The facility was in 2016 forecast to produce as much as 50,000 tons of the metal that’s used to produce stainless steel. The mine’s operator said it doesn’t expect Enawo to have an impact on production. Most of Madasgacar’s vanilla production is in the northeast, where the storm has been most intense. It isn’t clear if vanilla bean crop has been damaged.

The country is already battling an El Nino-induced drought, with the World Food Programme estimating 1.2 million people in the south are having difficulty finding food. The U.S. embassy in Antananarivo will be closed until March 10 because of the storm, and citizens should prepare for at least five days of limited electricity and water, according to the State Department.

Tropical cyclones are common in Madagascar. Gafilo, also a category four, made landfall in 2004, killing 363 people. Dineo, another cyclone, killed at least seven in Mozambique, to the west of Madagascar, last month.

(Updates with intensity of storm in first paragraph.)
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