HIGH SEAS FLOOD TINY LEKINIOCH, CHUUK

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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 3) – Life on the tiny island of Lekinioch, in Chuuk of the Federated States of Micronesia, is as close to nature as you can get.

Lekinioch residents have endless views of an aquamarine sea that provides their daily dinner staples. Phones don't exist on Lekinioch, but that's hardly necessary for a place about 4 miles long by 2.5 miles wide.

[PIR editor’s note: Chuuk is one of four states the comprise the Federated States of Micronesia—the other three being Yap, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. Chuuk is the most heavily populated state in the nation.]

A cargo ship that visits once or twice a month and an amateur radio are Lekinioch's link to the rest of the world, said Mayor Inos Walter, who is visiting Guam.

But while nature is what's keeping many Lekinioch residents from leaving for a more modern world, nature also has become its most recent challenge.

Lekinioch is at sea level, its mayor said.

Without high ground, the island is susceptible to sea swells.

But the mayor said the surge of seawater on March 5 was of a scale his island has not seen before.

The ocean surged about a mile inland starting around 3 a.m. that day, destroying several homes and flooding 90 percent of its farms, he said.

"We had high tide swells before, but nothing like what happened" on March 5, Walter said.

While the islanders suffered no major injuries, they continue to suffer from a lack of food, said the mayor.

The mayor is visiting Guam as part of his efforts to draw attention to his island's plight.

The village residents received a supply of rice from the Federated States of Micronesia government immediately after the devastation, but that has run out, the mayor said.

Lekinioch residents could use donations of rice, flour and other non-perishable food, said the mayor.

In addition to fish, taro and breadfruit were the main sources of meals for Lekinioch residents, but the island's taro farms have been swamped with seawater.

Breadfruit trees are dying, too, because of stagnant saltwater, the mayor said, showing pictures of trees and plants with yellowed leaves and former taro farms turned into swamps.

He said the island's residents also could use a portable power generator to pump out saltwater from its taro farms.

The villagers have dug a trench to start emptying the saltwater from the taro farms, but as a long-term solution, the island could use a donation of PVC pipe for a drainage system about 200 meters long into the sea, the mayor said.

The mayor said his island's recent experience might be a result of climate change.

There have been national and international news reports that talked about global warming and its effects on sea level.

But in Lekinioch's case, it's unlikely global warming was the cause, said Mike Ziobro, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service on Guam. Some smaller islands in the Pacific, especially those that have low elevations or are at sea level, are susceptible to sea swells, Ziobro said.

And though it doesn't happen often, there are times when a number of factors – such as high tide, the moon and the sun at certain angles and the weather – combine to cause higher-than-usual sea swells, Ziobro said.

The Marshall Islands, for example, was inundated by seawater in December 1975, he said.

Pohnpei in 1988 had high tide flowing inland during a storm, he said.

For Lekinioch's mayor, the island's lack of elevation has had him thinking about relocating to Guam.

His children are already here; his son is attending the University of Guam and wants to be a lawyer, while his daughter is taking a tourism course at Guam Community College.

But for many Lekinioch residents, he said, relocating will be hard to do.

Those who hesitate to relocate "no matter what," said the mayor, worry about being able to adjust to a new, unfamiliar place.

Others simply don't want to leave the home they've known since birth, he said.

The island's 1,500-plus population has a month-old baby as its youngest resident and an 80-plus-year-old man for its most senior resident, he said.

"For some people, I think relocation is out of the question. A lot of people will not want to leave home," the mayor said.

The island could use a new seawall, Walter said.

According to the mayor, the seawall that once provided some protection to the island has since been washed away.

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