West African archipelago hit in rare hurricane strike

This August 31, 2015 NASA satellite image shows Hurricane Fred over the Cape Verde Islands (AFP Photo/)

Bissau (AFP) - The West African archipelago of Cape Verde was pounded by powerful winds and heavy rain on Monday in a rare hurricane strike, local officials said.

Named Fred, the storm packed winds of up to 140 kilometres per hour (85 miles per hour), according to Cape Verde's interior ministry and the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Winds uprooted trees on several islands, telecommunications and electricity were affected in some regions and the national airline cancelled flights, but there were no reports of any casualties, according to emergency services on Cape Verde reached from Bissau, the capital of Guinea Bissau.

The storm "made landfall at 8am (0900 GMT) 35 kilometres south of Rabil," a town on the northern island of Boa Vista, said Idilton Briton, a senior official at Cape Verde's civil defence.

Boa Vista and Sal, a neighbouring island, were the most affected of the country's islands, he said.

In a statement released on Facebook, the interior ministry said a "state of maximum alert" had been declared.

"As of 3.45pm (1645 GMT), (the storm) was located nearly 30 km north-northeast of the island of Sao Nicolau," it said.

"With maximum winds of 140 kph, (Fred) is moving in a northwesterly direction at a speed of 19 kph, and should pass by slightly north of the islands of Sao Vicente and Santo Antao during the night."

The Miami-based NHC warned the hurricane could unleash a storm surge accompanied by large and dangerous waves near the coast.

Fred, a category one hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, also could dump up to 25 centimetres (10 inches) of rain on the islands, it said.

"According to the official Atlantic tropical cyclone record, which begins in 1851, Fred is the first hurricane to pass through the Cape Verde Islands since 1892," the NHC added.

Fred is expected to weaken gradually starting Tuesday as it moves further out to sea, the NHC said.

Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony lying around 500 km west of Senegal, comprises 10 volcanic islands, nine of which are inhabited.

Fred is the second hurricane of the Atlantic season.

Earlier this month, Hurricane Danny caused a tropical storm across a handful of popular Caribbean destinations but was downgraded to a tropical depression before it could do much damage.

Just days ago, tropical storm Erika left at least 20 people dead and dozens missing as it swept over the tiny Caribbean island nation of Dominica.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, sees peak activity in September.

But experts have said there was a 90-percent chance this year's season would be less active than usual.

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