Winds whip through palm trees in the fishing village of Mahebourg in Mauritius – Copyright AFP Sam Yeh
Mauritius was battening down the hatches on Monday as an intense tropical cyclone moved closer, with flights cancelled and normal life at a standstill in the Indian Ocean island nation.
No government services were operating, while shops, banks and petrol stations were shut and public transport halted, leaving streets largely deserted, according to an AFP correspondent.
Images from the remote paradise island showed waves crashing to the shore and the wind whipping through palm trees.
“Cyclone Freddy is an extremely strong cyclone which is a direct threat” to the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Saint-Brandon, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said.
In an address late Sunday, he urged the people of Mauritius to take all necessary precautions, stay home and remain “vigilant.”
The idyllic holiday destination is renowned for its spectacular white sandy beaches and turquoise waters but also lies in the pathway of occasional cyclones.
The Mauritius Meteorological Services (MMS) has issued a Class 3 cyclone warning, saying estimated gusts in the centre of Cyclone Freddy could reach around 280 kilometres (170 miles) an hour.
– ‘Storm surge’ –
In its latest update at 4 pm (1200 GMT), the agency said Freddy was about 120 kilometres to the north of Mauritius and moving west-southwest at a speed of about 30 kilometres an hour.
A slight change of trajectory towards the south “may still bring the centre of Freddy closer to Mauritius,” the MMS said, warning that a “further deterioration” in the weather is expected in the coming hours.
“Sea will be phenomenal with heavy swells of the order of seven metres beyond the reefs. Storm surge will continue to cause inundation along the low-lying coastal areas. It is, therefore, strictly advised not to go at sea,” it added.
“The public in Mauritius is advised to maintain all precautions and to stay in safe places.”
The agency had earlier lowered the cyclone’s classification to intense from very intense and lifted its safety bulletin for the autonomous island of Rodrigues which lies 600 kilometres east of Mauritius.
Airports of Mauritius announced that the international airport would be closed from Monday until further notice “due to the cyclonic weather”.
“Air Mauritius is closely monitoring the situation with the authorities and will keep passengers informed of developments,” the national carrier added on its website.
The authorities on the French island of Reunion, which is expecting the cyclone to reach it overnight 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.