Powerful Waves Slam U.S. Army Base in the Marshall Islands

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A surge of unexpected waves swamped the island of Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands on Saturday, forcing evacuations from a U.S. Military base and causing damage that could take months to repair.

A video from inside a building at U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll that circulated widely on social media showed a surge of water crashing through a set of double doors, knocking them off their hinges and upending people who were standing nearby. Another burst of water rushed through the windows, forcing the people to wade through waist-high water as furniture and vegetation floated around them.

Roi-Namur is a small island about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii and is the second-largest island of the Kwajalein Atoll, a loop of coral reefs in the Marshall Islands.

U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll supports a missile range and testing facility. About 120 military personnel were living on Roi-Namur when the waves struck, and 80 were evacuated, Mike Brantley, a base spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Flooding from the waves damaged housing and left the dining facility, chapel and theater “moderately to severely damaged,” the statement said. An automotive complex was still underwater on Tuesday.

It could take months for recovery efforts to be completed, Mr. Brantley said.

He said that 60 people had stayed behind to assess the damage and restore basic services, as well as to provide water and fuel to the nearby island of Enniburr, where the base’s Marshallese workers live.

Photos provided by the military showed extensive flooding on the island and a dining facility inundated with mud and plants.

Col. Drew Morgan, the garrison commander, said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday that there had been “a few minor injuries” when the waves hit.

“Clearing the runway on Roi-Namur and assessing its safety is our top priority now that we have evacuated personnel not required for the initial response efforts,” Colonel Morgan said in a statement on Tuesday. “Once the runway is open, we can move people and equipment back and forth to start the recovery process.”

Roi-Namur is about one square mile in area and is “extremely vulnerable” to sea-level rise, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Human-induced global warming is the main driver of rising sea levels around the world. When the ocean surface is higher, storms can push water farther inland, increasing the odds of significant damage. The low-lying Marshall Islands, which sit only a few feet above sea level on average, are especially vulnerable to such surges.

At the COP28 Climate Summit in December, a Marshall Islands official was one of several representatives from the countries most vulnerable to climate change who criticized a global pact for addressing climate change.

“I came here from my home in the islands to work with you all to solve the greatest challenge of our generation,” John Silk, the minister of natural resources for the Marshall Islands, said in a statement reported by Reuters. “I came here to build a canoe together for my country. Instead we have built a canoe with a weak and leaky hull, full of holes. Instead we have put it in the water.”

Raymond Zhong contributed reporting.



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