Cyclone Belal, characterized as very dangerous by meteorologists, recently unleashed high winds and torrential rain as it made landfall on the islands of Réunion and Mauritius, causing substantial damage and flooding across both territories.
Réunion Braces for Impact as Belal Makes Landfall
As of Monday, Tropical Cyclone Belal had reached the shores of Réunion island packing winds of over 120 km/h (75 mph). Residents had been forewarned to prepare for the worst:
Authorities on France’s Réunion island ordered the territory’s 840,000 inhabitants to stay inside to ride out Tropical Cyclone Belal on Sunday and Monday, the first extreme weather system to strike the Indian Ocean island since 1989. (The Guardian)
Red level cyclone warnings urging the highest level of vigilance were issued across the island. Locals were advised to stockpile essential provisions in anticipation of power outages and blocked roadways:
People on Réunion island were hunkering down on Sunday evening as Tropical Cyclone Belal approached from the Indian Ocean, with authorities warning the weather system packing winds of 150 kph (93 mph) was likely to be “very dangerous”.
Island officials issued red alerts, told people to stay indoors and recommended storing water as the cyclone — classed at its highest intensity — approached the French territory off the coast of Madagascar. (France24)
Belal Proves Less Damaging than Expected in Réunion
Although Belal did lash Réunion with powerful winds overnight, itthankfully did not unleash its full ferocity on the island as initially feared. Torrents of rain led to widespread flooding, however, with a meter of standing water observed in certain areas:
While less powerful than anticipated, Belal brought major flooding to the island of just under 900,000 people overnight. No victims have yet been reported, according to the prefecture early Monday morning.
Flooding ravaged towns around the island, with the community of Sainte Suzanne recording water levels of 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet).
“I have never seen this before in my life,” a resident who gave her name as Frederique told broadcaster BFMTV.
Some towns lost access to drinking water overnight. (France24)
While Belal did not unleash maximum intensity winds as initially predicted, gusts still topped 87 mph in certain regions. One unidentified individual unfortunately perished as the storm battered Réunion’s coastline:
A person died in the floods caused by Tropical Storm Belal as it slammed into the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, French authorities said Monday.
The victim was found dead in the coastal town of Etang Sale, on Reunion’s west coast, local prefect Jacques Billant told journalists.
Belal lashed Reunion with winds of up to 141 kilometers (87 miles) per hour after the storm intensified to become a tropical cyclone. (ABC News)
Neighboring Mauritius Also Impacted as Belal Pushes West
After pummeling Réunion, Belal continued on a westerly track, passing close to neighboring Mauritius island. Though its wind speeds had diminished from peak intensity, the cyclone still dumped massive amounts of precipitation as it swung by – on the order of 400-500 mm (16-20 inches) in certain areas.
Substantial flooding resulted, causing significant infrastructural damage and unfortunately claiming one life so far:
Tropical Cyclone Belal caused heavy flooding and one death in Mauritius after it battered the nearby French island of Reunion, authorities said Monday.
Cyclone Belal passed just north of Mauritius late Sunday and early Monday, buffeting the Indian Ocean island nation with winds of up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour and torrential rain. Flooding remained severe in parts of the main island by midday Monday.
One person died in the floods and another is missing, Mauritius’ government said in a statement. Local media reported the person who died got trapped under a collapsed wall. (ABC News)
Bracing for Next Potential Impact
Now diminished to tropical storm status, Belal continues charting a westward course that may lead to additional landfalls in Madagascar and mainland Africa in the coming days. Meteorologists caution that its heavy rains could still pose flood risks even if wind speeds are reduced.
Mauritius and Réunion must now grapple with Belal’s aftermath and begin efforts to repair damage and reopen flooded roadways. Officials warn that additional rainfall could still hamper recovery work and spark further flooding, so vigilance remains urged even as the worst winds subside.
It remains to be seen whether Belal will intensify again upon potential African landfall, but meteorologists are tracking its path closely. Other islands and coastal communities far west of Réunion and Mauritius may need to brace for impact later this week if projections hold.
Timeline of Key Developments
|Tropical Cyclone Belal officially categorized as very dangerous weather system
|Red alerts issued for Réunion island
|Belal makes landfall on Réunion island
|Torrential rainfall and major flooding observed
|Belal rakes Mauritius island with heavy rain and winds
|One reported dead so far across both islands
January 17 | Flood waters persist; recovery work begins |
| | Belal continues westward trek as a tropical storm |
| | Possible intensification and/or additional landfalls later in week |
Belal has already left major damage in its wake, but coastal areas far west of Réunion and Mauritius must remain on alert in case the cyclone intensifies and pushes farther inland off Africa later this week. In the meantime, recovery efforts on Réunion and Mauritius will likely be hampered by floodwaters and infrastructural damages for some time.
Longer Term Outlook
Climate scientists caution that as ocean surface temperatures rise with climate change, storms like Belal may increase in severity and frequency. Vulnerable tropical islands must brace themselves for more events like this in the future. Advanced forecasting and protective infrastructure will become increasingly vital in helping minimize loss of life and destruction related to tropical cyclones.
Humanitarian assistance from international partners will likely prove crucial in helping rebuilt damaged homes, buildings, and roadways across Réunion and Mauritius in Belal’s aftermath. But such aid cannot shield islands like these from the next storms that will inevitably come. Ultimately, curbing the long-term climate trends that make such cyclones more common may prove the only way to prevent small island nations from enduring storm damage as a new normal.
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