Storm surge swamps low-lying Maldives islands

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO, May 15 (Reuters) - Waves from an Indian Ocean storm surge swamped dozens of islands in the low-lying Maldives on Tuesday, the government said.

Because the Maldives are on average just 1.5 metres (five feet) above sea level, inhabitants are especially alert to rising waters, fearing the islands may be obliterated within a few generations by rising sea levels brought by global warning.

Tuesday's floods in the south of the archipelago did little or no damage, but did appear to be an unusually large example of the surges that are normal at monsoon time.

Waves of three to four feet (one to 1.3 metres) caused flooding in 48 of the archipelago's 197 inhabited islands, but officials said no one was hurt.

None of the Maldives' trademark luxury, palm-fringed resorts -- which attract the rich and famous and are the linchpin of the $800 million economy -- were affected.

"It is an annual occurrence at this point of the monsoon. Storm surges are quite common, but it is unusual to have them to the extent we have had today," government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said by telephone from the Maldives' capital, Male.

"It is essentially a rise of the tide. The water came in at least 100 feet (30 metres) on some islands, and then receded in the evening ... It is the low-lying islands that have felt the impact."


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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