ANTANANARIVO - A cyclone that swept across Madagascar last week killed at least 69 people and made tens of thousands homeless in the north of the Indian Ocean island, officials said on Friday.

Mudslides have buried whole villages, rivers have burst their banks and roads have been cut off since Cyclone Indlala struck on March 15.

"I have never seen so much damage," Jacky Randimbiarison, executive secretary of the government's disaster management agency, told Reuters.

The agency said it had confirmed 69 deaths, two people missing, and nearly 78,000 people uprooted on the world's fourth largest island that is home to 18.6 million people.

The storm wiped out more than 3,600 houses plus dozens of government buildings, schools and bridges, officials said. Some 8,280 hectares of paddy-fields were ruined.

In northern Ambanja district "a whole mountain has collapsed, burying two villages under thousands of tonnes of rock and killing 20 people including six children in a school", Randimbiarison said.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies appealed on Friday for $637,000 to help Madagascar.

"The situation has been made worse because Indlala is the fifth cyclone to hit Madagascar in the past three months and the region has already experienced heavy rains since December," said Amna Al-Ahmar, the federation's regional officer, in Geneva.

"According to government figures, about 80 per cent of the country's vanilla production -- Madagascar's top foreign exchange earner -- has been lost," it said in a statement.

Emergency assistance was focusing on temporary shelter and preventive health measures through the provision of tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans, water purification tables and other basic relief items, the federation said.

Some emergency aid was being delivered by air and sea, officials in Madagascar said.

Aid agency CARE International said it was likely the total number of people affected is around 225,000.

"At least 75,000 people are in urgent need of immediate relief," said Didier Young, CARE's emergency coordinator in Madagascar. "These people have lost everything ... their houses, food stocks and their crops."

CARE said that with the destruction of the main rice harvest, which had been due in May, "a substantial part" of Madagascar was now facing a potential food crisis.