Maldives seeks international support for flood victims

The government called Wednesday for international help for people displaced in the worst flooding in the Maldives since the deadly 2004 tsunami.

The United Nations said 1,650 people were evacuated and 217 homes damaged when large waves hit 35 islands and 13 atolls last week, causing widespread flooding.

The South Asian nation needs international aid because tsunami reconstruction work has drained government coffers, government spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef said, adding that many people have started to repair and clean up their homes.

"There was no loss of life, but flooding caused extensive damage, especially to structures of houses, furniture and personal properties," Mohamed told The Associated Press by telephone from Male, the capital of the Maldives.

"Except for the tsunami in 2004, the Maldives have never before faced such widespread and simultaneous flooding of so many islands," Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said in a statement. "If required, the United Nations stands ready to help the country respond to this environmental emergency."

The Maldives government also made a formal appeal to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to help, according to U.N. humanitarian officials.

There are 290,000 people living in the Maldives, a string of Indian Ocean atolls southwest of the southern tip of India made up of some 1,200 islands.

One of the lowest-lying countries in the world, officials estimated in the days following the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami up to 40 percent of the Maldives was underwater.

The 2004 tsunami left 82 dead and 26 missing in the country.