Thousands abandon flooded Pacific villages
Tens of thousands of South Pacific islanders have abandoned their homes in the past two months as huge waves, storm surges, king tides and heavy rains combine to flood coastal villages in several island nations.world Updated: Jan 13, 2009 08:46 IST
Tens of thousands of South Pacific islanders have abandoned their homes in the past two months as huge waves, storm surges, king tides and heavy rains combine to flood coastal villages in several island nations.
Fijians were told on Tuesday to move to higher ground before more wet weather arrives later in the week to cause flash flooding, which has already killed eight people and displaced thousands.
South Pacific disaster officials believe climate change will result in more coastal flooding events, which combine annual king tides with huge storm waves and tropical rain depressions, like the one they have been battling since December.
"Yes, climate change is taking its toll on the Pacific and we expect it to continue," Martin Moses, director of Papua New Guinea National Disaster Services, told Reuters.
Fijians paddled makeshift bamboo rafts along flooded streets on Tuesday, ferrying people and food, while four wheel drive cars ploughed through towns inundated with deep floodwaters and villagers on foot carried stranded animals to safety.
"There is a forecast for strong winds and rough seas and we advise people to stay indoors on higher grounds," Fiji's Director Meteorology Rajendra Prasad said in a statement.
The storm and flooding in Fiji's west since the weekend has cost over F$15 million ($8.5 million) in damages, said the National Emergency Operation Centre. Fiji has declared a state of emergency and imposed curfews to stop looting.
"The National Weather Office is predicting heavy rain and strong winds to affect the group by late this afternoon and tonight hence it is possible that there could be a repeat of the recent flooding scenarios," said the Fiji weather service.
Low-lying Pacific islands of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons were first hit by coastal flooding in early December when storm waves combined with king tides washed away villages.
"A combination of 3-metre waves and heavy storms flooded the cities of Majuro and Ebeye in the Marshall Islands, destroying homes and submerging parts of the islands. The tidal surges left streets covered in rocks, coral and debris," said Duncan Kerr, Australia's parliamentary secretary for Pacific Islands.
"There is limited information on the amount of damage in Micronesia, however we know that groundwater supply and farming land has been contaminated with seawater due to the tidal surges," Kerr said in a statement received on Tuesday.
Both Micronesia and the Marshalls declared states of emergencies in December as thousands were left homeless. Australian navy patrol boats are currently ferrying supplies and aid assessment teams to the outer islands of Micronesia.
Villagers on PNG's northern islands again moved to higher ground to escape coastal flooding on Monday, with local media reporting houses being washed away.
Initially, PNG disaster management officials estimated that 70,000 people were displaced, but as of Tuesday the number of villagers still unable to return home was around 30,000.
"Most of the displaced people are starting to return to their villages. We are still expecting king tides, which are normal for this time of year, but the worst is over," Moses said from the PNG capital Port.