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Last Updated: Friday, 20 February, 2004, 13:47 GMT
Tuvalu braces for high tides
by Phil Mercer
BBC in Sydney

The tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu is bracing itself for the onset of unusually high 'King Tides'.

Island in Tuvalu
Tuvalu's atolls are only a few metres above sea level
Homes, offices and part of the airport have been flooded, not by water washing over the coastline, but by worrying springs of sea water.

Locals say it is a further reminder that the country, comprising nine coral atolls lying between Australia and Hawaii, could one day disappear beneath the waves of the Pacific ocean.

These are nervous times for one of the smallest and most remote countries on earth. None of Tuvalu's atolls are more than 4.5 metres above sea level.

Weather forecasters have predicted the "King Tides" will peak at about three metres.

With such little breathing space, locals are grateful that severe storms are not expected to pass through their isolated part of the South Pacific.

The worst of the flooding so far has occurred in the centre of the main atoll, where villagers have stood ankle deep in seawater bubbling from the soil in areas normally used for growing crops.

Larger tides are expected in the next 24 hours.

Tuvalu is a local word meaning "group of eight" referring to the number of traditionally inhabited islands.

The authorities have long insisted the risk from rising sea levels caused by global warming will one day force the evacuation of the country's 11,000 mainly-Polynesian residents.

The government in Tuvalu has failed to convince its larger neighbours Australia and New Zealand to offer its people sanctuary, should the high tides eventually swamp these tiny Pacific atolls.


SEE ALSO:
Sinking feeling in Tuvalu
28 Aug 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Tuvalu
06 Jun 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Tuvalu
01 Nov 03  |  Country profiles



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