Tourism hub Mauritius lifts maximum cyclone alert after storm Belal wreaks havoc | Travel

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Mauritius on Tuesday removed a maximum cyclone alert warning as it assessed the devastation wrought by tropical storm Belal to the Indian Ocean island nation.

Turbulent weather caused by the Cyclone Belal is seen in Mahebourg. Heavy flooding hit Mauritius on January 15, 2024 as a tropical cyclone was “dangerously approaching” the Indian Ocean island nation after battering the French overseas territory of Reunion. Tourism hub Mauritius lifts maximum cyclone alert after storm Belal wreaks havoc, flights cancelled (Photo by Laura Morosoli / AFP)

Belal has claimed the life of one person in the remote paradise island, left thousands without power, and caused traffic chaos with numerous cars submerged under floodwaters or piled up on streets.

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The Mauritius Meteorological Services (MMS) said a “safety bulletin” was now in force as Belal was moving away from Mauritius, three hours after announcing it was raising its alert to four, the maximum level.

The government on Monday had ordered inhabitants to stay indoors, but the restriction was eased on Tuesday, with the MMS instead saying in a 0610 GMT update that the public was “strongly advised to maintain precaution and stay in safe places”.

The National Emergency Operations Command warned that winds of 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour were expected, and waves of up to seven metres (23 feet), posing a risk of flooding in low-altitude areas.

Police said the body of a motorcyclist was found on a flooded highway, the victim of a road accident. Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, in a statement on national television on Monday, confirmed one fatality.

Belal had already battered the French overseas territory of Reunion, leaving one person dead. The authorities there announced that its red alert would be lifted on Tuesday.

The international airport in Mauritius was closed on Monday until further notice and Air Mauritius announced that several flights scheduled for Tuesday, including to France and South Africa, had been cancelled.

In its update, the MMS said Belal was about 210 kilometres (13 miles) off Blue Bay, which lies on the southeast of Mauritius.

“It is moving away from our region in a general east south-easterly direction at a speed of about 18 km/h. Hence, there are no longer any risks of having cyclonic conditions over Mauritius but other environmental risks exist.”

– ‘Share the anger of Mauritians’ –

In his address on Monday, Jugnauth criticised the meteorological agency and announced that its director had submitted his resignation.

“I have to admit that the country has had a difficult time because of Cyclone Belal,” he said, adding that all decisions made by the government had depended on information from the MMS.

“I am surprised that the arrival of the heavy rains was not anticipated by the weather services. I share the anger of many Mauritians. Those responsible will have to assume their responsibilities.”

The Central Electricity Board said 8,400 people in Mauritius, which has a population of almost 1.3 million, were without power.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism accounted for almost a quarter of Mauritius’ GDP, with tourists wooed by its spectacular white beaches and turquoise waters.

About a dozen storms or cyclones occur each year in the southwest Indian Ocean during the November-April season.

In February last year, Mauritius was lashed by heavy rains and high winds from Cyclone Freddy, which caused a wave of death and destruction in southeastern Africa including Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

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