Cyclone Enawo stuck land in Madagascar on Tuesday, March 7th. Not just any land, but MY land. The cyclone struck my town of Antalaha. And maybe it is not mine. But it is the place that I lovingly call home.
I rode out the cyclone in a town 87 km north of Antalaha in a town called Sambava. On Sunday March 5th, all peace corps volunteers in the region were called to consolidate in the northern coastal town. We were consolidated to the only concrete hotel that still had enough rooms to contain all of us. Hotel Melrose is a beautiful hotel with a friendly caring staff overlooking the Indian Ocean. While slightly concerned about staying so close to the ocean, we were reassured that the hotel has already seen its fair share of cyclones and has managed to stay standing.
We became restless waiting for the storm to hit. Would it be today? How about tomorrow? What time will it hit? What category cyclone would it be? Reliable information was hard to come by. Additionally, we were all very concerned about our homes and our friends. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I was safe while so many people I loved and cared for could not be granted the same guarantee. Here I was in my fancy hotel while all my Malagasy friends prepared their houses for the onslaught. We were instructed to buy supplies and prepare to stay in the hotel for at least 24 hours. On my trips, I would ask Malagasy strangers if they felt ready for the storm and if they were worried. They would laugh, ‘No, this is the way things are. There is always a cyclone coming,’ As the storm started to brew, you could tell they started to show less certainty. Still, “come what may” tended to be the general attitude. At times I almost felt silly worrying so much, if the experienced locals were not too concerned.
I kept updating the news websites on my phone and watched as the upcoming cyclone kept upgrading categories, headed straight for my town and us. The sirens started Monday night and they could hardly be heard over the ever-growing crashing waves. Tuesday Morning, I made last minute phone calls to reassure my family that I was indeed safe and not very concerned for my own safety. That is when the winds picked up.
For 12 hours, we waited and watched as the cyclone rolled through. The rain was heavy and felt like stinging needles when it came in contact with my hand. The winds hit on the north side of the building hard. On the top floor, the windows facing the north collapsed inward and soaked the rooms and flooded the upper floor. A steady river of water poured down the staircases. Metal from the neighboring buildings were slowly twisting and breaking off in the wind. Plant debris was flying everywhere. Sand from the beach was displaced onto the yard. Across the way I saw a catholic school, with a solitary nun watching the debris fly by looking picturesque amongst the chaos. As we all decided the storm was slowing down Tuesday night, we headed to bed in hopes that we would wake up to find that it had all just been a nightmare.
Instead, we woke up in the morning to a storm that had never left us. We thought it was over, we lamented. However, the storm raged on. A few more hours, we waited. Finally, the storm let up and we wandered outside. The beach was littered with unripe avocados and fallen palm trees. Malagasy people were being resourceful and collecting fallen coconuts. The streets of Sambava were already being cleaned. The sounds of hammers echoed through the streets as men repaired their broken roofs. Stray dogs wandered the main road in their packs looking fluffy from their cyclone-shower. Sambava was hit hard and the damage was apparent. But it was nothing in comparison to Antalaha, I would find out in the following days.
More on the situation in Antalaha to come soon.