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Destructive winds, severe flooding as Tropical Cyclone “Belal” makes a direct hit on Reunion

satellite image of tropical cyclone belal 0845 utc on january 15 2024

The eye of Tropical Cyclone “Belal” passed over the northern part of Reunion Island (population 870 000), shortly after 06:00 UTC on January 15, 2024, with maximum sustained winds of 148 km/h (92 mph), and gusts to 213 km/h (132 mph).

Before the impact, Météo-France predicted potentially historic impacts and placed the entire island under a Purple alert, the highest level of warning, effectively implementing a total lockdown of the population. This included emergency and security services, with a strict prohibition on all movement.

Residents were advised to prepare for the cyclone’s impact by stocking up on essential supplies, unplugging electrical devices, refraining from using tap water, limiting phone use to emergencies only, and staying indoors for an extended period of 36 hours.

High waves, anticipated to reach heights between 13 to 15 m (42 – 50 feet), led to a heightened alert along the coastline, and flight operations at the island’s main airport were suspended.

After the peak of the cyclone passed, at around 08:00 UTC, the alert level was downgraded to Red, allowing emergency services to resume operations.

tropical cyclone belal mfr january 15 2024
Image credit: MFR
tropical cyclone belal at 0539 utc on january 15 2024
Tropical Cyclone “Belal” at 05:39 UTC on January 15, 2024. Credit: EUMETSAT/Meteosat, SSEC, The Watchers
YouTube video

Despite the severity of the storm, Prefect Jérôme Filippini noted at a press briefing that the damage was less catastrophic than expected, but cautioned that the cyclone was not yet over for La Réunion.

The last major cyclone to hit Reunion was in 2014 but comparisons were drawn to Cyclone Firinga in 1989, remembered for its destructive impact on the island. Météo-France cautioned residents about a deceptive lull as the eye of the cyclone passed and warned of winds picking up from different directions, potentially reaching over 200 km/h (124 mph) on the coast and exceeding 250 km/h (155 mph) in higher altitudes.

Reports indicate severe flooding on Reunion Island and neighboring Mauritius.

The cyclone claimed the life of a homeless individual in Saint Gilles, who had not sought shelter.

Belal is the second named storm of the 2023/24 South-West Indian Ocean cyclone season.

References:

1 Residents of France’s Reunion Island hunker down as Cyclone Belal barrels in – France24 – January 15, 2024

2 Cyclone Belal sweeps through France’s Réunion Island – Le Monde – January 15, 2024

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