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Regional News

Marshalls capital inundated by high tide

MAJURO — High tides coupled with storm surges flooded Majuro airport’s runway, forcing a United Airlines flight to overfly the Marshall Islands capital Tuesday as islanders geared up for more of the same for the next two days. Some islanders were forced to evacuate their homes until the tides subsided.

The 25-mile southern shore of low-lying Majuro Atoll was battered by waves generated by a local storm that coincided with an exceptionally high tide Tuesday morning, according to a Majuro Weather Station official. Roads were temporarily blocked, and island residents and government agencies spent most of the day clearing rocks, coral, garbage and other debris from roads and backyards.

The Foreign Ministry issued a special notice late Tuesday to all foreign diplomatic personnel on Majuro to alert their citizens in the Marshall Islands to secure their areas to minimize property and crop damage along the south facing shores. “All commuters are advised to stay off flooded coastal roads during high tides and boat users are advised to remain on land during high tides,” said the Foreign Ministry alert.

“We’ve put out a special alert for people to get their valuable items off the ground,” said Weather Station Chief Reginald White on Tuesday evening. Majuro and four other atolls, including Kwajalein where the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site is located, were put on alert for continuing possible flooding.

High tides coupled with storm surges hit Majuro, the low-lying, coral-atoll capital of the Marshall Islands, Tuesday morning.  Photo by Giff JohnsonHigh tides coupled with storm surges hit Majuro, the low-lying, coral-atoll capital of the Marshall Islands, Tuesday morning. Photo by Giff Johnson

Many parts of Majuro Atoll are less than one meter above sea level and often flood when there is an extraordinary tide.

“We’re not out of the woods yet as we are expecting the winds to come from the southeast this evening — not good news,” said White on Tuesday. The government’s radio station “has been directed to inform residents in the exposed area to be alert and to be ready to protect their lives and property.”

Damage from the flooding Tuesday morning was modest, but disrupted the flow of traffic in the morning as police halted vehicular traffic to allow heavy equipment to sweep rocks and debris from the single two-lane road on the atoll. Outbound passengers were stranded Tuesday when the regular daily United flight overflew Majuro because of ocean debris on the runway. By late morning, airport workers and heavy equipment had cleared the runway, reopening the airport. A United official said the one regularly scheduled United flight for Wednesday was still planned.

“The cement seawall that protects the runway broke in four places and debris were strewed all over the runway,” White said.

White said the weather alert will remain in force through Thursday night when the last of the high tides are expected. While he said the “supermoon” phenomenon affected the tides, “it is never high tides alone that cause flooding.” Strong winds or storm surges can turn a high tide into a huge cleanup project for local residents.

An overnight localized storm about 50 miles to the south of Majuro may have generated the storm surge that turned an unusually high tide into a serious inundation event, White said.