- By Yasine Mohabuth in Port Louis and Ido Vock in London
- BBC News
January 15, 2024, 12:53 GMT
Updated 4 hours ago
Watch: Cars submerged after Cyclone Belal hits Mauritius and Réunion
Torrential rains and flooding have hit Mauritius and the French Indian Ocean territory of Réunion as Cyclone Belal crossed the islands.
One person died in Réunion, where the population of about 860,000 people was ordered to shelter at home, but the eye of the storm has avoided the island.
Around a quarter of households on the island had no power on Monday and thousands were without running water.
According to police, one person – a motorcyclist – also died in Mauritius.
Officials on the island say the storm will move south on Tuesday. There is a cyclone warning level three out of four.
“Belal is approaching Mauritius dangerously and poses a threat,” the Mauritius Meteorological Department said.
In the deserted streets of the capital Port Louis, the clatter of metal sheets can be heard in the howling wind. People further south on the island are dealing with the worst of the weather.
A curfew has been in effect in the country since 8:00 p.m. local time (4:00 p.m. GMT) and will last until midday on Tuesday.
At 4:30 p.m. local time, the country's international airport was closed, along with government offices, banks and other companies, and staff were sent home ahead of expected torrential rain, AFP news agency reported.
The storm had already brought heavy rain.
Social media posts show vehicles being flooded or washed away in Port Louis. Some of the water has now receded, revealing numerous damaged cars.
“When the government closed its offices at 12.30pm today, it caused a huge panic. Many couldn’t find their cars,” a bank employee was quoted as saying by AFP.
“My car was carried 500 meters away [yards] through rainwater. “This is the first time in my life I’ve seen this,” he added.
Before the cyclone moved towards the south of the island, the British Foreign Office advised tourists to follow official instructions, which included staying indoors.
Authorities in Réunion had previously raised the storm warning level to purple, the highest level, as the cyclone approached the island.
This alert level even prohibited police and rescue workers from leaving the property. The value was later lowered to red so that authorities could offer help to those affected.
Despite the dire warnings, Réunion appears to have been spared the worst of the cyclone as the center of the storm moved north. Jerôme Filippini, the region's prefect, said it did not have the “catastrophic character” initially feared.
However, health authorities have advised people not to use tap water for drinking or cooking.
The only person confirmed dead was said to have been homeless. Authorities said the victim refused emergency shelter.