Cyclone causes heavy flooding, 1 death in Mauritius after also battering French island of Reunion

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Strong winds blow in the town of La Plaine Saint-Paul on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. Authorities urged residents on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion to shelter indoors Sunday as a powerful storm bore down packing hurricane-force winds and Meteo France forecaster warned of winds that could top 250 kph (155 mph) Monday. In the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, local authorities said Monday that the highest alert level has been lifted but residents were still urged to remain sheltered indoors. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

SAINT-PAUL – A tropical cyclone caused heavy flooding and at least one death in Mauritius on Monday as cars were washed away by surges of water in the Indian Ocean island's capital city and elsewhere. A motorcyclist died in an accident caused by the flooding, the government said and imposed a curfew.

The government issued an order that everyone except emergency and health workers, members of the security services and those requiring medical treatment must return home and remain there.

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Some people were also being evacuated as the floodwaters caused by Tropical Cyclone Belal threatened houses and other buildings. Schools were closed and hospitals were told to only keep their emergency departments open.

The main airport was closed and flights into and out of the island nation of 1.2 million people were canceled until further notice, the government said.

The Mauritius newspaper L'Express published videos of cars floating down streets that looked more like raging rivers in the capital, Port Louis, and other parts of the island. Some people climbed onto the roof of their car and clung on, according to the images published by L'Express. Motorists who had escaped from cars were seen being pulled from the floodwaters and to safety by others.

Vehicles were left piled up, some of them overturned, after some of the floodwaters receded.

The water also entered buildings and flooded homes and the lobbies of offices. The Central Bank of Mauritius building was reportedly flooded.

Evacuations were being carried out, the government said in a statement.

Belal had earlier also battered the nearby French island of Reunion, where the intense rains and powerful winds left about a quarter of households without electricity after hitting Monday morning, according to the prefecture of Reunion.

Many people in Reunion had also lost internet and phone services, and water connections to tens of thousands of homes were cut. Authorities in the French outpost said a homeless person was found dead in Saint-Gilles on the island’s west coast. The circumstances of that death were unclear.

Reunion had declared the highest storm alert level on Sunday as Belal approached. But the alert was lifted after the worst of the storm passed Reunion on Monday afternoon and charged toward Mauritius, around 220 kilometers (135 miles) to the northeast.

Mauritius' National Crisis Committee ordered everyone to return home at 8 p.m. local time. The curfew would remain in effect until noon on Tuesday, it said.

Mauritius' national meteorological department said the eye of the storm was still expected to come closer to Mauritius and pass about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the island at its closest point early Tuesday morning, warning that the worst might still be ahead.

The island would feel the effects of the cyclone “for hours,” the Mauritius Meteorological Services said.

Cyclones are common between January and March in the Indian Ocean near southern Africa as seas 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.


Gerald Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa. Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report from Paris.


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