Winds of over 200 km per hour (124 miles per hour) were forecast as Cyclone Batsirai slammed into Madagascar.
Cyclone Batsirai battered the eastern region of Madagascar on Saturday with strong winds and heavy rain, the second storm to hit the island nation in just weeks.
Batsirai made landfall in Mananjary district, 530 km (310 miles) southeast of the capital Antananarivo, amid warnings of “widespread damage”.
“I confirm that Batsirai hit Mananjary around 8:00 p.m. (17:00 GMT) local time,” meteorologist Lovandrainy Ratovoharisoa told AFP news agency, without giving further details.
Residents hunkered down ahead of the storm’s arrival and winds of more than 200 km per hour (124 miles per hour) were forecast as they battered the country still recovering from deadly Tropical Storm Ana at the end of January.
The eye of the storm was expected to cross the center of the island overnight Sunday into Sunday, before leaving its western shores on Monday.
The winds could reach “more than 200 or even 250 km / h … at the point of impact” and the waves could reach 15 meters (50 feet), said Météo-France.
The UN said it was stepping up its preparedness with aid agencies, placing rescue planes on standby and stockpiling humanitarian supplies.
Batsirai’s impact on Madagascar is expected to be “considerable”, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian organization OCHA, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
At least 131,000 people were affected by Ana across Madagascar at the end of January. At least 58 people were killed, mostly in the capital Antananarivo. The storm also hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, killing dozens.
The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) highlighted national authorities’ estimates that some 595,000 people could be at risk of being directly affected by Batsirai, and another 150,000 could be displaced due to further landslides and flooding. .
“We are very nervous,” Pasqualina Di Sirio, who leads WFP in Madagascar, told reporters via video link from the Indian Ocean island.
Search and rescue teams on the island were put on alert and residents reinforced their homes.
Sitting on the roof of his house, Tsarafidy Ben Ali, a 23-year-old charcoal seller, held corrugated sheets on the roof with large bags filled with soil.
“The gusts of wind are going to be very strong. This is why we are reinforcing the roofs,” he told AFP news agency.
The storm poses a risk to at least 4.4 million people in one way or another, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.