AFP — Tropical cyclone Batsirai swept past the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Thursday, leaving at least 12 people injured and causing an empty oil tanker to run aground, with 11 crew members onboard.
The French island was placed on red alert on Wednesday, forcing its 860,000 inhabitants to barricade themselves indoors, with the eye of the cyclone passing nearly 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the coast early Thursday.
Emmanuel Cloppet, regional head of national weather agency Meteo-France, said in the early evening that the cyclone was heading away from the island.
But “we are facing the worst weather conditions since the start of the episode”, he warned, with winds of up to 150 kilometres (90 miles) an hour.
A rescue team was sent to help 11 Indian and Bangladeshi sailors stranded on an oil tanker that ran aground 30 metres (yards) off the coast, local authorities said Thursday evening.
The French state’s top representative on the island, Jacques Billant, assured in a tweet that the seamen were “safe and sound” but that they were still onboard the vessel.
The French minister in charge of overseas territories, Sebastien Lecornu, said the tanker was travelling empty and dismissed any risk of serious maritime pollution.
Earlier Billant had reported 12 people injured onshore by the storm, included 10 who had carbon monoxide poisoning, a firefighter who was electrocuted attending a roof fire and another who was injured after a fall from a roof.
Many across the island suffered water and power cuts.
In Mauritius to the east, Batsirai on Wednesday also left thousands of homes without power but passed over the island without inflicting major damage despite cyclone winds bringing life to a standstill.
The cyclone passed within 130 kilometres (80 miles) of the popular holiday destination, bringing heavy downpours and winds of 120 kilometres per hour before it moved on with La Reunion in its sights.
Heavy rain has hit the island since midday Wednesday, with the majority falling to the south, including a metre within 24 hours in the uninhabited region of Piton de la Fournaise, Meteo-France said earlier.
The island is regularly threatened by tropical cyclones. One caused heavy flooding in 2018, while the last devastating cyclone to hit the island came in 2007, killing two people and causing extensive damage.
After passing La Reunion, Batsirai is set to touch the east coast of Madagascar in southern Africa by the end of the week, Meteo-France forecast, potentially at the level of an “intense tropical cyclone” which could cause a “major” impact for the region.
Other tropical storms and torrential rains have wreaked havoc in southern Africa in recent days, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
Tropical Storm Ana claimed the lives of 86 people in Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi last week.