During the early hours of monday morning one to two feet of salt water flooded the north eastern part of Majuro and some outer islands. At the height of the event around 700 people were forced to move to higher ground or were in evacuation centres, with 69 homes destroyed. As well roadways, sea walls and fencing was damaged by the high tides and some roads littered with debris and rocks.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Reginal White, Marshall Islands National Weather service meteorologist in charge
WHITE: Everything is back to normal now, people are cleaning their households and repairing fences and seawalls that have been damaged. There is no more cause for concern at the moment, as the swells, wind waves and tides have slowly subsided.
COUTTS: And is the state of emergency over now. Has that been declared over?
WHITE: Well, with regards to the threat, yes. We have called off the high surf advisory, but there is still the need for emergency, because there are still hundreds of people in the shelters who cannot return to their households, because they have been damaged by the waves.
COUTTS: When do you expect they might be able to go home?
WHITE: Ah, it really depends on how long it will take to repair and replace. Some of the houses we know were totally damaged and for a few of the families it will take up to two maybe three weeks, but the rest that were in shelters just to be safe whose homes were in the affected areas but were not damaged have started returning as of last night.
COUTTS: How many people were there in the shelters at the peak of the problem?
WHITE: The last count it was near 700 people in the shelters. Usually when an event occurs and peoples lives are stake and people are evacuated and damage has been verified, we declare a state-of-emergency. What happens after that, it calls for resources to be made available, to respond to the immediate needs of the people. In this case, there was need to find shelter for them, to provide foods and hygiene kits. As you know, when the salt water inundated, there were a lot of debris, there were concerns that a few graveyards were exposed, in some cases, there might have been concern with regards to septic tanks and raw sewerage being distributed around the island with the onset of the waves.
COUTTS: These occurrences getting worse each season, each spring season, or is this about normal?
WHITE: Well, what is of concern now is the combination of high tide swells and wind waves. When there is high tide alone and no other combined factors, usually you get very minor inundation on very low areas. Combine high tide with swells, and wind waves usually you get one to two feet of inundation and damage to properties and households.
COUTTS: And as you said, it was February-March, the spring tides, so we're just early in March. Can you expect these conditions again over March?
WHITE: Oh, yes. We do have another high tide during the new moon and that's on the 16th, 17th. and the 18th. and should there be any swells in the area, we'll make sure to put out another high surf advisory, but if those swells are high enough, then we'll have to put out a warning.
During this time of the year, January, February and March we look out for these combined factors to be able to warn the public or at least give them advisories.
We will be putting out the report on the event and I'm sure all of the information and details as of now, these are preliminary findings and we're still working on the detailed report that will be published and disseminated.
On life count, there were 69 houses that were damaged and a lot more that water inside them. They got flooded with the salt water, a couple of sea walls were knocked down and a few fences inbetween the residences were brought down as well.
The roadways suffered some minor damage due to being undermined by the salt water. A lot of debris and boulders and small rocks were strewn onto the roadways, so there were areas where there were no access to transport. But as soon as the heavy equipment's came and cleared up the road, people were able to commute again.
We had report that one island in Meli atoll, people had to be evacuated as six families with six houses were totally destroyed and we also received information from Santo in Kwajalein atoll that a few of their small properties on the coastal areas were washed off as well, and also report from the northern parts of Ahno atoll, a report of some serious inundation and some damage to crops and to houses as well.
COUTTS: Is there any talk at the moment of relocating some of the families away from the areas that are devastated by the king tides and the high tides and the swells each season?
WHITE: Yes, as soon as the report comes out, then the mitigation or recovery aspect will kick in and that's where the discussion on whether to relocate, re-establish or maintain status-quo will come out.