Residents evacuated in Coast as Cyclone Hidaya slams Tanzania

Cyclone Hidaya which is characterised by heavy rains and strong winds will hit the Kenyan coast. [File, Standard]

Anxiety gripped the Coast on Saturday as Cyclone Hidaya raced towards Kenyan shores from the Indian Ocean after causing storms, flooding and devastation in neighbouring Tanzania.

Beaches were deserted and many shops closed as heavy winds buffeted coastal areas of Tanzania and Kenya.

The Kenya Meteorological Department said the cyclone was already being felt offshore, with strong winds exceeding 40 knots and waves of over two metres (over six feet).

It forecast heavy rainfall along the coast from today, intensifying over the following two days, but said Kenya would only feel the effects of the cyclone from the “fringes” because of its location on the equator.

The Tanzanian Meteorological Authority said there had been strong winds and heavy downpours along the coast overnight.

In the Mtwara area, it said over 90 millimetres (3.5 inches) of rain had been reported in 24 hours, nearly twice the average May rainfall of 54 millimetres.

Mombasa County announced it has started the mass evacuation of hundreds of people living in slums along the beaches following fears that Cyclone Hidaya could lead to a sea rise and flooding.

Expert warnings

Experts said because Kenya lies on the equator, warm waters and air may weaken the cyclone as it gravitates from the ocean.

“The reason why the Kenyan coast has never experienced a cyclone is because we have a long coastline and we are a tropical state on the Equator where temperatures are high and water tends to be warm which forms a depression creating a barrier in the ocean,” said Dr Amon Kimeli, an oceanographer at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in Mombasa.

He added that many tropical islands in the Caribbean experience destructive hurricanes or cyclones because they lack this distinctive protection.

Kimeli said cyclones, typically, do not make a destructive landfall on areas that lie within 10 degrees of the Equator, but still warned of storms and heavy rains.

“The scope of the expected strong winds will be unpredictable and may gain strength, shift trajectory and become more destructive at the Kenyan Coast.”

Other experts said the Kenyan coastal towns were protected from adverse sea waves and seaborne flooding by the presence of creeks and coral unlike the coasts of parts of Tanzania which face open sea.

Yesterday, the cyclone hit Mtwara and Lindi, in the Southern tip of Tanzania with heavy rains, storms and flooding causing immense destruction. Reports shows that Dar also experienced heavy rains and floods.

Zoom Earth, which tracks sea weather activity, shows winds hitting parts of Tanzania were moving at speeds of 75 kilometres per hour yesterday from a high of 130kph recorded on Friday.

Kenyan coast experienced fast, heavy and cold winds since Tuesday raising fears that heavy rains and storms will follow leading to rising sea levels and destruction of dams especially in Kwale.

Dr David Obura, an oceanographer and director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean East Africa, warned that the winds could lead to strong tidal waves that could sweep boats and small ships into the ocean.

“The cyclone has become weak. It will be strong tropical wind experienced during the South East Monson Wind. We should be careful, but there was no need to panic,” said Obura. 

“Given that the cyclone has crossed to land south of Dar es Salaam, so almost no risk to Kenya or causing back to sea.”

Meanwhile, public and private beaches at Coast were deserted with locals and tourists staying away.

A report from Kenya Ports Authority indicates that a ship that was expected at the Lamu Port postponed its voyage.

Yesterday, Kwale and Mombasa remained on high alert, with the security team advising fishermen and beach operators to stay away for the next seven days to avoid the effects of cyclone Hidaya.

Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir suspended all construction, quarrying and all activities in the public and private beaches, saying that people living near the shoreline will be evacuated. Governor Fatuma Achani of Kwale, in a notice, asked residents to take the warning seriously.

“We have talked to Beach Management Units on the expected cyclone and we have agreed with them not to extend their fishing activities in the deep sea to avoid being swept away by strong waves,” said Achani adding that she has set up a team to monitor situation in the next seven days.

[Additional reports by AFP, Patrick Beja and Willis Oketch]

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