Killer waves smash east coast of Africa
NAIROBI - High waves sparked by a massive earthquake on the other side of the Indian Ocean hit the east coast of Africa on Sunday, drowning a number of people, officials and witnesses said.
The huge waves swept 7000 kilometres from the Indonesian island of Sumatra before crashing onto the shores of Kenya and Somalia, affecting the islands of Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles on the way.
Thousands of holidaymakers and fishermen were urged to flee beaches before the waves hit, but for some it was too late.
In the Seychelles archipelago, nine people were reported missing and a key bridge linking the country's main airport and the capital Victoria destroyed.
"I am asking people to remain calm and help those in need," Seychelles President James Michel said in a televised speech.
Michel also formed a national disaster plan committee to co-ordinate efforts to evacuate people from the coastal region.
In Mauritius, "the biggest waves struck the north and east of the island at around 1pm (11am South African time)," a meteorological spokesman told AFP, adding that no casualties had been reported there or on the smaller nearby island of Rodrigues to the east.
Mauritian authorities urged holidaymakers and picnickers to clear beaches and avoid putting to sea, noting that vessels had been damaged along most countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
Police said the beach of Cap Malheureux, a coastal village on the north of Mauritius, was submerged for almost three hours.
Weather services observed a sudden rise in the tide at Port Mathurin, the main town on Rodrigues, where several stowed boats were damaged. Sea levels returned to normal by the end of the afternoon.
Waves also caused damage to ports in Reunion, a French territory, where 15 small fishing boats were damaged or flipped over in the ports of Sainte Marie and Saint-Gilles, officials said.
Thousands on the island, where meteorologists said water levels rose by one or two metres, ignored warnings and rushed to the coast to observe the wave phenomenon.
Kenyan Environment Minister Kalonzo Musyoka said: "We have asked people to evacuate from the beaches along the coastal region. We have also put our navy on top alert."
Officials in the port city of Mombasa forcefully evacuated more than 10000 holidaymakers who were celebrating Christmas on public beaches there, but a 20-year-old Kenyan man drowned off the nearby coastal town of Malindi.
"He was hit by strong waves as he was swimming here," the local police said.
"Some boats were swept away," the police added, saying that government security personnel were patrolling the beach.
In Somalia, at least 16 people were feared dead, though accurate figures were hard to come by in the anarchic Horn of Africa country, officials and witnesses said.
Nine people were reported missing in the northeastern Kabaal region, and seven in the port of Elmaan, 35km north of Mogadishu, where several boats were destroyed.
The earthquake off Sumatra sparked tidal waves, known as tsunamis, that claimed thousands of lives in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, as well as Indonesia.
Source: Daily Dispatch Online
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