Madagascar Red Cross responds to the cyclone Giovanna

Published: 16 February 2012 16:26 CET

By Mbola Ranaivomanana, in Madagascar

Accompanied by high winds and heavy rain, intense tropical cyclone “Giovanna” landed in the district of Brickaville, in the East coast of Madagascar, during Monday night on the 14th of February. It came out of the sea in the Mozambique Channel causing much damage in its path with the regions of Brickaville and Vatomandry the most affected. The latest assessment of the National Office of Disaster Management, reported 16 dead, 65 injured, 10,856 people affected, 3,380 houses totally destroyed and 1,480 houses damaged. The number of victims is increasing every day.

The shock came hard for the people of the East Coast and in Antananarivo, the capital.  Cyclone Giovanna left in its wake the havoc of rising waters, roves blown off, houses totally destroyed, power cuts, trees and power poles down, rice fields flooded, schools and health centers under water, people trapped under the trees. The dam was seriously damaged. Sabotsy Namehana, a resident of Antananarivo said, “The river flooded the road. Nobody could cross because the water level was high and it was violent.”

The Malagasy Red Cross responded well before the cyclone. As soon as the Malagasy Meteorological Service has confirmed that the cyclone would hit the country, 1,416 volunteers were involved in an early warning campaign. They traveled to each neighborhood with their megaphones and also went door to door. They have also worked with local radio stations to broadcast alert messages. "People laughed us when we did the alert campaign because the weather was great last Monday. But that reaction does not discourage me," said Solange, a volunteer from Ambohimanarina branch.

A few hours after the cyclone, the Malagasy Red Cross volunteers started to assess the damage and the resulting needs. They joined the search and rescue operation, and then helped them to move to the camps, providing first aid where needed. As the storm was so sudden and so strong they also are giving psychological support in each camp. In the eastern region, many of the volunteers were personally affected but did not stop their work helping other victims of the disaster.

In Brickaville and Vatomandry the Malagasy Red Cross has sent two teams of technicians to assist volunteers in disaster response. There are working on providing safe drinking water to the population, disinfecting wells and distributing essential items such as jerry cans, plastic sheeting and stoves.

"We have a contingency plan," said Jocelyn Razafindrakoto, disaster management coordinator. "We have a national disaster response team and we also have many volunteers trained in many regions. When a cyclone is approaching our country, we give some instructions and they move. That’s why we are always the first on the ground to respond" she added. Nearly 600 volunteers have been deployed so far. Their number will increase as the emergency response continues.