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A Remote Pacific Nation Threatened by Rising Seas

TARAWA, Kiribati — One clear bright day last winter, a tidal surge swept over an ocean embankment here in the remote, low-lying island country of Kiribati, smashing through the doors and windows of Betio Hospital and spewing sand and debris across its maternity ward.

Beero Hosea, 37, a handyman, cut the power and helped carry frightened mothers through the rubble and water to a nearby school.

“If the next one is combined with a storm and stronger winds, that’s the end of us,” he said. “It’s going to cover this whole island.”

For years, scientists have been predicting that much of Kiribati may become uninhabitable within decades because of an onslaught of environmental problems linked to climate change. And for just as long, many here have paid little heed. But while scientists are reluctant to attribute any specific weather or tidal event to rising sea levels, the tidal surge last winter, known as a king tide, was a chilling wake-up call.

“It shocked us,” said Tean Rube, a pastor with the Kiribati Uniting Church. “We realized, O.K., maybe climate change is real.”   Read more...