Natural Disasters in Mauritius: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Mauritius is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Thousands of tourists come here every year to relax on its luxurious beaches and experience the island’s beautiful nature. And of course they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but with knowledge of its potential, one can prepare for it.
Climate characteristics of the island of Mauritius
The island of Mauritius is situated in the south-western part of the Indian Ocean in a tropical monsoon climate zone. This climate type is characterised by consistently high temperatures, with short dry and long wet seasons.
The south-eastern trade winds determine the weather in Mauritius. These winds blow almost year round and can reach hurricane strength.
Potential hazards which can cause a natural disaster include:
- Tropical monsoon climate. Persistent cyclones can cause hurricanes and storms that hit Mauritius predominantly from the east.
- Isolated position in the middle of the ocean. Despite the reefs surrounding the island, violent storms and tsunami waves can be a nuisance to residents.
- The volcanic origin of the island. Volcanic eruptions are virtually impossible in Mauritius, but earthquakes can be a problem for islanders.
- Heavy rainfall. Can lead to flooding in certain areas and underground tunnels, causing landslides in the mountains.
The importance of studying the history of disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential hazards that may be ahead of you not only allows you to choose the right location, but also the time of year when there is the least risk of being in the midst of a natural disaster.
For example, knowing that Mauritius is at risk of major cyclones and hurricanes from February to April, you may opt to visit the country at a different time of year.
You will learn about the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in Mauritius in the past.
Mauritius is not considered prone to earthquakes, but it is just as likely to do so as anywhere else in the world except along tectonic fault lines. Mauritius lies at the edge of the African plate, on the Mascarene Plateau, far from fault lines. It is seismically calm, but has occasionally been shaken by earthquakes.
2007, April 5
This quake was of small magnitude, but unusual in that its epicentre was placed almost exactly under the island of Réunion, neighbouring Mauritius. Seismologists have previously recorded earthquakes with their epicentres solely to the east of the archipelago, in the Indian Ocean. The earthquake in La Réunion had a magnitude of 5 and caused no damage. Its shocks were barely felt in Mauritius.
2010, 16 August
In the early morning hours of 16 August, a major earthquake struck the southern Indian Ocean, 350 kilometres off the island of Mauritius. The magnitude of the shocks at the epicentre reached 6.3. Their echoes were felt by residents of Mauritius, but they did not cause much damage. There were no casualties.
2021, 12 April
On the evening of April 12, a strong earthquake struck the ocean. Its epicentre was to the north of the island of Rodrigues, in Mauritius. The magnitude of the tremor at the epicenter was 6.7. There was no damage or casualties.
Cyclones in the south-west Indian Ocean, where Mauritius is located, occur regularly. But few increase to dangerous strength. For the most part, hurricane-force winds do not cause much damage on the island and storm waves are trapped by a wall of coral reef. It is only in exceptional cases that the force of the storm is such that it hits Mauritius.
April 29, 1892
A period of sudden calm and lack of storms for the season was followed that year by a storm of terrific strength. The wind gusts reached speeds of 215 kilometres per hour. Winds tore down roofs, felled trees and destroyed the wooden buildings that made up Port Louis at the time. In one hour, 1200 people were killed, 50 000 were made homeless and 200 000 trees were blown down.
Feb 2022, Bacirai
At the end of January this year, Cyclone Batsirai formed in the southern Indian Ocean. Very quickly it developed a terrible force and struck Mauritius and Madagascar. Wind gusts of up to 230 kilometres per hour hit Madagascar. Madagascar took the brunt of the impact, but Mauritius was also badly affected. The hurricane resulted in 2 deaths on the island.
February-March 2023, Freddy
One of the strongest cyclones of recent years originated in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean. It quickly developed a devastating force, skirting Mauritius and then battering Madagascar and then the African continent. The wind force reached 220 kilometres per hour. One person was killed in Mauritius itself and a Taiwanese ship went missing near the island.
The coral reefs that surround the island on all sides act as a natural barrier to tsunami waves. Destructive waves simply don’t have time to reach the coast, losing their power on the reefs.
For example, one of the world’s biggest tsunamis, which occurred in December 2004 and caused enormous casualties in other countries in the region, only touched Mauritius by a margin. It managed to penetrate the coral reef but reached the shore severely weakened. The tsunami devastated one village on the northern tip of the island and no casualties were reported. And this despite the police warning, not only did thousands of tourists not leave the coastal area but instead entered the sea to watch the menacing phenomenon up close.
Heavy rainfall, often brought by tropical monsoons, can cause flooding in Mauritius, although this type of disaster is not typical of the island.
One of the worst floods in the country’s history occurred on 31 March 2013. Extended rainstorms then caused flooding in parts of the capital Port Louis. The Caudan Tunnel in particular was flooded and six people drowned. Two more died in another part of the city.
Despite its volcanic origin, the island of Mauritius can hardly be described as mountainous. Its highest point rises only 800 metres above sea level. However, there are high cliffs, hence a certain danger of rockfalls and landslides, especially during the period of intense rainfall.
History has preserved for us a fragmentary record of a major landslide which caused the death of 60 people. This disaster took place in January 1876. Since then, numerous safety measures have been put in place to minimise the likelihood of landslides.
Mauritius can be considered one of the safest islands in the world’s oceans in terms of natural disasters. Earthquakes, if they do occur, are not very dangerous and very rarely cause any destruction. Tsunamis which devastate the coasts of other islands do not reach Mauritius, trapped by the coral reef. There is no threat of wildfires, and the lack of high mountains makes the threat of rockslides and landslides minimal.
The biggest threat to tourists in Mauritius is from cyclones, which cause severe hurricanes. However, even these hurricanes can be a big attraction for wave riders, surfers and yachtsmen.
The safest time of year to visit Mauritius is in the local spring, September to November, when temperatures are not so high, there is not much rain and hurricanes have not yet gathered their destructive force.