Reunion Island | Purple alert lifted, cyclone Belal less “cataclysmic” than expected

(Saint-Denis de la Réunion) The purple alert was lifted on Monday on the island of Reunion, allowing emergency services to intervene and assess the damage from the cyclone Belalwith a less “cataclysmic” course than expected even if one death was confirmed.

The overseas territory of 870,000 inhabitants returned to red alert at 1 p.m. local time, a way of allowing rescue teams to go out, but this switch does not change anything for the population, which must always remain confined.

“We are not at all out of the cyclone, but we are below the cataclysmic character” initially feared, affirmed during a videoconference the prefect of the island, Jérôme Filippini, calling however for caution in the face of the unpredictable nature of the phenomenon: “We see the end of the tunnel (…) if Belal is kind enough not to have any surprises in store for us this evening or tomorrow morning.”

In Saint-Paul, a town of 100,000 inhabitants in the west of the island, few residents defy the ban despite the relative calm. In the Saint-Paul pond district, completely flooded around 1 p.m. local time, the water is already starting to go down.

“We have discharge pumps which failed due to power outages,” Sébastien Guyon, deputy mayor of Saint-Paul, explains to AFP: “Our teams intervened as soon as the purple alert was lifted. The pumps could be repaired. This undoubtedly helped a lot with the descent of the waters.”

A dead person

Since 6 a.m. local time, the Indian Ocean island has been placed on cyclonic violet alert, the highest level, due to the passage of the cyclone Belalwith potentially devastating effects.

After hitting Reunion around 9 a.m. from the north and west of the island, causing heavy rain and very violent gusts of wind, the eye wall of the cyclone finally diverted its course towards the north without returning inside the ground.

A change in trajectory “probably due to the marked relief of the island”, according to the prefecture.

The prefecture, however, confirmed the death of “a homeless person who had not taken shelter” in Saint-Gilles (West) and had refused the emergency accommodation offered. According to the local gendarmerie, his body was found near the barracks, but the causes of death are still unknown.

Heavy rainfall and gusts continue to affect the island while the eye of the cyclone is expected to remain in Reunion until the end of the afternoon.

“We will remain in its zone of influence in the afternoon, gusts of 140 km/h are expected in the low areas and 160 km/h in the high areas. In terms of precipitation, sustained rain is expected throughout the afternoon,” said Céline Jauffret, interregional director of Météo-France.

The mayors of Port and La Possession, two towns in the northwest of the island, told AFP that no significant damage had been reported, but the rains have already caused flooding in several rivers carrying with them they have lots of debris.

“In comparison, the flow rates of Cyclone Gamede in 2007 are exceeded. At the time, they had impacted the works locally,” commented the Territoire de l’Ouest, an intermunicipal association bringing together the five municipalities of this region.

100,000 homes without electricity

According to the prefect, 100,000 customers out of the 430,000 on the island were without electricity at 1 p.m. local time. On the water side, preventive cuts for 37,000 people were decided and 17% of landline subscribers were deprived of service.

Reunion has not been hit by an intense cyclone for ten years and the passage of Bejisain the first days of 2014. But the comparison that many feared was that of the cyclone Firingawith devastating impact in 1989.

Before the arrival of the winds, the local authorities had set up accommodation centers that were ultimately little used: nearly 700 people were admitted there.

They are also awaiting the arrival of around thirty people from Mayotte and around a hundred Civil Security reinforcements from mainland France, as well as EDF teams who will help repair the damage.

The Mauritius meteorological services issued a level 3 alert (out of 4) on Monday due to the “direct threat” presented by the cyclone, which is “dangerously approaching” and could affect the island on Tuesday.


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