January 17, 2018 / 5:05 PM / a year ago

Mauritius raises alert for cyclone Berguitta, closing port, airport

PORT LOUIS (Reuters) - Mauritius closed its port and airport on Wednesday as it raised its alert level for a tropical cyclone that is bearing down on the island.

Thousands of residents flocked to storm shelters set up by the government, the environment minister said, after authorities declared a class III alert for the category three Cyclone Berguitta.

The island’s meteorological service said Berguitta was likely to “pass very close to” the Indian Ocean island around mid-morning on Thursday.

Gusts hitting 120 km/h could be expected by Wednesday evening, the service said earlier.

Authorities closed the airport from 7 a.m. (0300 GMT) until further notice.

Port Louis Harbour, the main port, was also closed. It is the country’s principal gateway and handles about 99 percent of external trade, including key imports for the country’s population of 1.3 million such as food and oil.

Etienne Sinatambou, the Minister for Environment and also head of the National Crisis Committee, told a news conference Wednesday afternoon about 2,000 people had been received in 43 storm shelters around the island.

An association of vegetable farmers told local media their fields had been flooded and that the prices of fresh produce would likely jump in coming days.

Images posted on various social networks platforms showed several roads in the coastal regions of the island flooded.

About 300 households were without electricity, according to the Central Electricity Board (CEB).

Many residents fear Berguitta will cause extensive damage when it makes landfall, and the island of Reunion was also on alert as the cyclone approached.

Soobiraj Sok Appadu, ex-director of the meteorological service, told a radio station he estimated the cyclone might shave between 1 to 2 percentage points from the country’s GDP.

In February 1994, Cyclone Hollanda killed two people, destroyed 450 homes and caused $135 million in damage when it hit Mauritius.

Reporting by Jean Paul Arouff; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; editing by Elias Biryabarema and John Stonestreet

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