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April 17, 2013

Are the world's great cities ready for rising waters and freak storms?

(Continued)

LONDON —

Not that the Greek sea god is a sort of pagan Osama bin Laden, who has a special bone to pick with the United States. The list of metropoles threatened by rising seas and freak storms is alarmingly long, if (from a U.S. viewpoint) reassuringly international. Some of the world's other great cities regularly threatened by coastal flooding, and long-term candidates for watery extinction, are:

Mumbai, India: 2.8 million inhabitants exposed to flooding

Shanghai, China: 2.4 million exposed

Miami, United States: 2 million exposed

Alexandria, Egypt: 1.3 million exposed

Tokyo, Japan: 1.1 million exposed

Bangkok, Thailand: 900,000 exposed

Dhaka, Bangladesh: 850,000 exposed

Abidjan, Ivory Coast: 520,000 exposed

Jakarta, Indonesia: 500,000 exposed

Lagos, Nigeria: 360,000 exposed

But this accounting doesn't include several notable cities. London is not on the list, perhaps because of its state-of-the-art Thames Barrier, the world's second-largest moveable flood gate (after the Dutch Oosterscheldekering), which is nevertheless predicted to lose its protective function by 2050 due to rising sea levels. The artist Michael Pinsky earlier this year provided a poignant reminder of that future threat: his project Plunge encircled noteworthy London monuments in blue neon at the sea level predicted for the year 3111 — 90 feet above its current height.

Also absent from most soon-to-be-inundated lists is St. Petersburg. The former Russian capital was built on the marshy meeting point between the River Neva and the Baltic Sea, an area so flood-prone that it inspired one of Alexander Pushkin's most famous poems, "The Bronze Horseman." It tells of a grief-stricken flood survivor whose girl has drowned, cursing the equestrian statue of the city's founder, Peter the Great, who promptly comes to life to chase the protagonist to his death. To combat the recurring floods — more than 300 since the city's founding in 1703 — Russia's "Window on the West" is now framed by a sea wall that doubles as part of the city's ring road.

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