ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — The force of Cyclone Batsirai battered the east coast of Madagascar with torrential winds and rain Saturday evening.
The center of the tropical storm made landfall near Mananjary on the east coast and tracked inland across the island.
The cyclone gained strength as it crossed the Indian Ocean, with strong winds reaching peaks of 235 kilometers (145 miles) per hour, according to the island’s meteorology department.
Batsirai, which means help in the Shona language, is classified as a dangerous storm and officials have warned it could inflict “significant and widespread damage, especially flooding in the east, southeast and highlands of center,” the department said in a statement.
As a precaution, 22,000 people have already been evacuated to gymnasiums, schools or churches, particularly around Mananjary, on the east coast.
“The wind is getting stronger and it is raining a lot. The sea is very rough. There are big waves that are falling with a lot of force,” Captain Ravahalahy Heninjoa, commander of the Mananjary gendarmerie, said on Saturday.
Winds toppled many trees and power has been out since Friday evening, he said.
Further inland, Antananarivo, the capital, experienced rains before the cyclone.
Anticipating widespread destruction, most land and sea transport has been suspended in Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island.
“Almost all parts of the island are at risk,” the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management said, warning that the cyclone threatens nearly 600,000 of the island’s 28 million people.
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