March 5, 2014 Majuro, Marshall Islands -The Republic of the Marshall Islands has declared a state of emergency after king tides washed across the low-lying atoll islands. An early government estimate says that the waves and flooding severely damaged 69 homes in Majuro and displaced more than a thousand people.
The Rairok Elementary School, a dump site, a cemetery and the airport road have also been damaged by the flood.
The government reported no serious injuries from the flooding.
The preliminary report says that 790 people were staying in government supported shelters. On Monday evening the Rita Elementary School shelter was full with 470 evacuees. It said that another center would be opened at Marshall Islands High School if necessary. The shelter at Delap Elementary school had 320 people by Monday night.
The report also said that many people were also staying at churches, the College of the Marshall Islands, and the Marshall Islands Resort. Other evacuees sought shelter at local hotels and with families.
It said that a team left Majuro for Mili and Arno at 6:00 on Tuesday morning in order to assess damages on those two islands. At press time, those reports had not yet come in.
In Arno Atoll 36 homes were damaged and 246 people displaced.
By Wednesday afternoon those evacuees who could return to their homes began to do so but the homes of 10 families were completely destroyed.
"Six families will leave the Rita Elementary School (shelter) to the Salvation Army Compound, three families will leave the Delap Elementary School (shelter) to the Reformed Congregational Church compound, and one family will live with family members. There are 129 people (73 adults and 56 children) remaining in shelters. They will be leaving after 3pm to the church compounds listed above," a report issued by Doreen de Brum, Assistant Secretary at RMI Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 2:30 this afternoon says.
It's not unusual for king tides to arrive in the RMI at this time of year. According to a statement by Marshall Islands Climate Change Minister Tony de Brum that aired this morning on Radio Australia, Monday morning's king tide was the largest he'd ever seen. He said that the frequency of king tides is increasing, the tides are getting higher, and that the effects of climate change are to blame for the current damage in the Marshalls.
He invited Julie Bishop, Australia's Minister of Foreign Affairs to come out to view the damage. "If the people of Australia understood a little better and were able to see the kind of affect that climate change is having on the small island countries I am sure they will have something to say to their leadership," he told Australia Network News.
To reporters from Responding to Climate Change (www.RTCC.org)* de Brum said that the frequency and intensity of the high tides are increasing, which means those who live close to the shoreline may have to consider more permanent displacement.
"I'm talking about a short term solution to a long term problem," he said. "Perhaps we can find a way to make more permanent moves for people who are already much too close to the shoreline.
As RTCC pointed out in their article footnoted below, "although no single extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change, the intensity and frequency of such occurrences are expected to increase this century, and the current floods indicate the threat that they will pose to the islands.
"This is something de Brum hopes will help to make their case at the international summits where the future climate treaty is discussed. 'High tides speak louder than words and this is yet another example,' he says.
"'It presents an opportunity for us whenever we have these king tides for us to refocus attention on what many people don't realise: that this is a now issue, not a future issue,'" the RTCC article concluded.