The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wrecked Maldives declares emergency

Colombo, Dec. 26 (Agencies): The Maldives declared a state of emergency today after a tsunami deluged the remote Indian Ocean island cluster and flooded two-thirds of the capital, officials said.

At least 10 people, including a British citizen, were feared dead. The unidentified British tourist died of a heart attack as giant waves hit his resort, a local official said, adding that several 'water cabanas' built on stilts had been swept away by a wall of water.

'The scale of the damage is such that we have decided to declare a state of emergency,' chief government spokesperson Ahmed Shaheed said over mobile telephone from Male. Fatalities are feared to be about 10, with around 30 injured. 'We are still unable to get through to some of the people stranded in the islands.'

Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has spent much of his 26 years in power warning of the dangers that global warming, erosion and shifting weather patterns pose to low-lying island nations like his own.

The chain of 1,200 tiny palm-fringed coral islands dotted across 800 km off the toe of India lie just a few feet above sea level, and are a magnet for wealthy tourists.

'The island is only about 1 metre above sea level and a wave of water 1.3-metre high swept over us,' Shaheed said.

Male, home to 75,000 people, is bursting at the seams. The streets of white-washed houses are heavily built up, living conditions often cramped and areas of communal open space sparse for the country's 300,000 people ' most of whom are involved in the tourist industry, the economic backbone of Maldives.

'It is a very bad situation. It is terrible,' Shaheed said after a tour of the capital.

'As you know, it is the peak tourist season. We are trying to get reports from those areas. The whole of the Maldives is a tourist area so we are just hoping and praying.' The spokesperson said the international airport was unusable.

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