Mauritius has grounded flights and shut its stock exchange as tropical Cyclone Freddy approaches, posing a “direct threat” to the Indian Ocean island.
A Class III cyclone warning was in force in Mauritius on Monday, allowing about six hours of daylight before the occurrence of wind gusts of 120km (75 miles) per hour.
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Mauritius, along with other Indian Ocean countries such as Madagascar and African coastal nations like Mozambique, is regularly affected by severe storms and cyclones capable of destroying homes, infrastructure and crops.
The idyllic holiday destination is renowned for its spectacular white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
Its weather service said in a bulletin issued at 10:10am local time (06:10 GMT) on Monday that at its closest distance, Freddy may pass at about 120km to the north-northwest of the island late in the afternoon, saying it represented a direct threat.
“As Freddy approaches Mauritius, (a) storm surge is likely to cause coastal inundation in risk areas. It is, therefore, strictly advised not to go at sea,” the bulletin said.
In its latest update at 1pm (09:00 GMT), the agency said Freddy was centred about 140km (87 miles) northeast of Mauritius and moving west-southwest at a speed of about 30km an hour.
“On this trajectory, Freddy continues to dangerously approach Mauritius and represents a direct threat,” it said. “As Freddy approaches Mauritius, storm surge is likely to cause coastal inundation in risk areas. It is therefore strictly advised not to go to sea.”
But it lowered the cyclone’s classification to intense from very intense and lifted its safety bulletin for the autonomous island of Rodrigues which lies 600km (373 miles) east of Mauritius.
Images from the remote island showed waves crashing to the shore and palm trees swishing in the wind.
In an address late on Sunday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Freddy is an “extremely strong cyclone which is a direct threat” to the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Saint Brandon. He urged people to take all necessary precautions, stay home and remain “vigilant”.
Airports of Mauritius announced that the international airport would be closed from Monday until further notice.
“Air Mauritius is closely monitoring the situation with the authorities and will keep passengers informed of developments,” the national carrier added on its website.
Authorities on the French island of Reunion, which is expecting the cyclone to reach it overnight on Monday, have also gone on alert.
About a dozen storms or cyclones occur each year in the southwest Indian Ocean during the November-April season.