The death toll from Cyclone Batsirai in Madagascar has risen to 80, according to authorities on Wednesday. the figures could rise further as some villages in the worst-affected areas remain cut off.
The National Disaster Risk Management Office (NDRO), which compiles reports from the worst-affected areas, including the eastern coast of the Indian Ocean island, announced the new death toll in the afternoon.
Of the 80 deaths, 60 were recorded in the district of Ikongo, in the east of the island, the public body said. "It's a hecatomb here," Brunelle Razafintsiandrofa, the district's deputy, told AFP by telephone, adding that "most of the victims died when their houses collapsed.
More than 94,000 people have been affected and nearly 60,000 displaced, while many NGOs and UN agencies have begun to deploy resources and teams to help the victims of the torrential rains and extremely strong winds.
The cyclone hit Madagascar on Saturday night, in a sparsely populated and agricultural coastal area 150 km long. It then moved towards the centre, ravaging the country's "rice granary" by causing rivers to overflow into rice fields, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.
The extreme weather left the island on Monday morning, sparing the capital Antananarivo and the country's main port, Tamatave (north-east). But it left a trail of destroyed or flooded houses, devastating health centres and schools, and some 20 roads and 17 bridges impassable, making rescue operations very difficult.
Reports are slowly trickling in, hampered by the geographical isolation of some villages and by communication difficulties, according to many officials on the ground. German experts have arrived in the country, one of the poorest in the world, to "support the humanitarian response in the Batsirai crossing areas", the BNGRC said. Work is underway to restore the road network as soon as possible.
"Rice fields are damaged, rice crops lost. It is the main crop of the Malagasy people and their food security will be seriously affected in the next three to six months if we do not act immediately," said Pasqualina DiSirio, director of the World Food Programme (WFP) in the country. The UN agency has been distributing hot meals in Manakara, one of the worst affected areas.
Many NGOs, including Action Contre la Faim, Handicap International, Save the Children and Médecins du Monde, had mobilised before the cyclone, prepositioning equipment and medicines. Alongside the aid provided by the government, they provided assistance to the victims: food, primary health care and distribution of cooking equipment, blankets and hygiene products.
The UN children's agency (UNICEF) fears that many of the victims are minors, in a country where they account for more than half of the population of nearly 28 million. In Mananjary, the epicentre of the destruction overwhelmed local residents continued to clear their tattered town. "The house has collapsed, we don't know where to go, we're looking for food," Berthine, 22, told AFP earlier this week.