Airport closed, torrential rains, flooded roads: Mauritius was placed on maximum alert on Tuesday December 16 following the passage of Cyclone Belal which swept across the small country in the Indian Ocean, causing widespread damage and leaving at least one dead. The alert level on the island of 1.3 million inhabitants was raised to 4, the maximum level, following the passage of this cyclone which had previously struck Reunion and left one dead.

The government ordered all residents to stay at home, but the meteorological service, blamed by authorities for not having anticipated the extent of the precipitation, indicated that the storm was now moving east, away from the island nation. However, coastal flooding is feared on Tuesday.

In Mauritius, thousands of people found themselves without electricity and many cars submerged in water. The island was hit Monday by torrential rains and winds recorded at more than 100 km/h. In the capital Port-Louis, cars were stuck, with water up to their hoods, sometimes even swept away by the current. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport announced its closure “from 4:30 p.m. [local time, 12:30 GMT] until further notice.”

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 death. “We deplore a death,” said the Prime Minister in a speech broadcast on national television, who also criticized the Mauritian Meteorological Service (MMS) and announced that its director had submitted his resignation.

A curfew until Tuesday noon

“I must recognize that the country has experienced difficult times due to Cyclone Belal,” he said, adding that he was “surprised that the arrival of heavy rains was not anticipated by the meteorological services.” “I share the anger of many Mauritians. Those responsible will have to take responsibility,” he added.

The island’s authorities had indicated that schools will remain closed on Tuesday. Cyclone Belal is approximately 210 kilometers south-southeast of Mauritius and is moving southeast at a speed of approximately 18 kilometers per hour, according to the MMS. “There is therefore no longer a risk of cyclonic conditions in Mauritius, but other environmental risks exist,” said the MMS.

“Seas will be high with swells of 5 to 7 meters beyond the reefs,” the weather service warned Tuesday, saying it would cause “coastal flooding along low-lying coastal areas. It is strictly recommended not to go out to sea and to avoid venturing along the beaches.”

The government announced on Monday that a curfew would remain in effect until midday on Tuesday, with only certain people, such as emergency workers, allowed to go out. The meteorological services had called on Monday the population to “take all precautions and stay in a safe place”, to avoid traveling and to stay away from “places prone to accumulation of water, the banks of rivers and other watercourses susceptible to flooding as well as certain mountain slopes prone to landslides”.

A tourist island popular for its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, Mauritius was hit in February 2023 by heavy rains and violent winds from Cyclone Freddy, which devastated southeast Africa, particularly in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar. Around ten storms or cyclones cross the southwest Indian Ocean each year during the cyclone season, which extends from November to April.