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Spotlight: Not only Hurricane Irma, but rising sea levels an even worse threat

by Matthew Rusling

MIAMI, the United States, Sept. 11 -- As bad as Hurricane Irma is, an even more insidious threat is coming, as climate change causes sea levels to slowly rise and threatens to put large chunks of the U.S. state of Florida under water.

While ocean levels have risen and fallen over tens of thousands of years, they have remained the same over the past 5,000 or 6,000 years, since the dawn of recorded human history.

Now, however, is the first time in recorded history that they are changing.

"South Florida's doomsday doesn't come with a hurricane. It just comes very quietly as the water creeps up," Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Association of Climate Change Officers, told Xinhua.

"We're so close to sea level that if sea level is rising, there's a point where you don't need a storm (to do harm). You're just underwater," he said.

That sits in sharp contrast with just two decades ago, when the main concern of residents and property owners was hurricanes, he said.

Now, low lying cities worldwide, from Mumbai to Bangkok to right here in southern Florida, are under the same threat.

According to images collected by NASA, global sea levels have risen 3 inches (7.6 cm) since 1992.

The U.S. National Ocean Service said global sea levels will likely continue to rise, although it remains unknown by how much.

Some experts said that could spell disaster for southern Florida, which includes Miami and the surrounding area.

A confluence of factors puts Miami under particular risk. For one thing, the city lies on a foundation of limestone, which allows water to seep through from underneath and come up through the sewers and drainage system to cause flooding.

That can happen during the king tide season -- a time of higher-than-usual tides -- and can in some cases happen without even a drop of rain.

City officials, politicians and climate change experts with whom Xinhua has spoken said this confluence of factors -- rising sea levels, a limestone foundation and king tides -- threaten to make large parts of the area uninhabitable.

While it remains unknown whether that will take decades or a century, local residents said it seems to be getting worse.

Jose, a waiter at a downtown Miami hotel who only gave his first name, said even a couple of hours of rain can flood the streets in certain neighborhoods in Miami.

"I've been here all my life and I don't remember it being this bad when I was a kid," he told Xinhua a couple of days before the hurricane hit.

"Just a couple of weeks ago there was a couple of hours of rain and already the water was up here," Jose said, demonstrating with his hands that water was above his ankles.

Danny, an Uber driver in downtown Miami, echoed those sentiments, telling Xinhua that rainfall causes light flooding in some streets as he traverses the area.

Some in the real estate business said Florida may be the next big real estate investment destination for foreign investors including Chinese. But if parts of the state see more frequent flooding, that trend could reverse.

Southern Florida is historically a major retirement destination for Americans, a party place for the rich and famous, and boasts a vibrant Cuban community that has lived there since the 1960s, many of whom are wealthy.

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