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'Everything Is Gone': Madagascans Face Destitution in Cyclone's Wake

A boy searches among debris on the beach, in the aftermath of Cyclone Batsirai, in the town of Mananjary, Madagascar, Feb. 8, 2022.
A boy searches among debris on the beach, in the aftermath of Cyclone Batsirai, in the town of Mananjary, Madagascar, Feb. 8, 2022.

The death toll from Madagascar's latest cyclone rose to 29 Tuesday as residents of a devastated coastal town tried to fix their homes or build temporary shacks from wood and palm fronds scattered by the violent winds.

Cyclone Batsirai slammed into the Indian Ocean island late Saturday, battering the southeastern coastline until it moved away late Sunday, leaving 91,000 people with damaged or destroyed homes, according to the state disaster relief agency.

It was Madagascar's second destructive storm in two weeks, after Cyclone Ana killed 55 people and displaced 130,000 in a different area of the country, further north.

The island nation, which has a population of nearly 30 million, was already struggling with food shortages in the south, a consequence of a severe and prolonged drought. The World Food Program said Batsirai had made the situation worse by destroying crops that were just two weeks from harvest.

In Mananjary, one of the worst affected towns, entire neighborhoods had been flattened, with planks of wood, palm fronds, clothing and household items strewn everywhere. A long sandy beach was covered in debris.

"Our TV, my CD player, all of our clothing, all the kitchenware, everything is gone," said resident Philibert Jean-Claude Razananoro, 49, surveying his collapsed home.

He and his family were staying in a school, designated as an evacuation center by the government, but they had been told they would have to leave at the weekend for lessons to resume next week.

"We plan to build a small shack just here, but we don't really have the means to do it," he said, appealing to the international community to help.

Many other residents were hammering at toppled wooden walls, seeking to separate individual planks to start rebuilding, but the task was daunting. Drone footage filmed by Reuters showed vast areas where almost nothing was left standing.

Doctor Malek Danish Andrianarison, known locally as Dr. Gino, had to turn away a man with an injured leg for lack of medicines or clean bandages to treat him after the cyclone blew away the roof of his house, which also contained his medical practice.

"You see here I have no roof, the medicine is ruined," he said, gesturing helplessly at piles of damaged boxes of medication and soggy patient notes strewn on the ground. "You saw the man that was here, I couldn't do anything for him."

Dr. Gino said he was relatively privileged and had enough to eat, but he felt desperately sorry for poorer people in the neighborhood who had been left destitute.

Lisa Mara Lang, head of supply chain for Madagascar at the World Food Program, said humanitarian agencies were working alongside the Madagascar authorities to assess the extent of the damage and the needs of the population. She said it would likely take several days for a fuller picture to emerge.

(Additional reporting by Lovasoa Rabary in Antananarivo; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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