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Cyclone Kills at Least Five People as It Slams into Madagascar

Trees are lashed by strong winds in Sambava, Madagascar, March 7, 2017 as heavy rains and strong winds from a cyclone hit northeast Madagascar, raising concerns about flooding and landslides.

Cyclone Enawo, a massive tropical storm packing winds up to 300 km per hour (185 mph), killed at least five people when it slammed into the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, officials said Wednesday.

Enawo made landfall on the vanilla-producing northeastern coast Tuesday morning, destroying roads and cutting off lines of communication to the Antalaha district that has a population of 230,000 people.

By late Wednesday, it had been downgraded from an intense tropical cyclone to a tropical storm with winds gusting up to 130 kph as it headed toward the capital Antananarivo.

Even as it was 100 km away from the city, it was causing major disruption. The streets were deserted as people stayed indoors. Prime Minister Olivier Mahafaly ordered companies to let employees stay home to avoid the danger of rising water and landslides.

About 500 people took shelter in a sports hall after the Andriantany canal, which drains waste water from the city, overflowed.

As of 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) five people had been confirmed killed and seven injured, the national office of risk management said. An estimated 22,000 people were either displaced or had their property damaged by what was one of Madagascar's worst storms in years.

Emergency assistance including tents, food and small boats was ready to be sent to the affected areas once the storm cleared, Prime Minister Mahafaly told reporters in his office.

"We will do our best with our own resources but we will make an emergency declaration if necessary, if the damage will be significant," he said.