The illegal mining of corals off the southwest coast of Sri Lanka permitted far more onshore destruction from the 26 December2004 tsunami than occurred in nearby areas whose coral reefs were intact. This is the principal finding of a team of researchers from the United States and Sri Lanka who studied the area earlier this year. Their report is published in the 16 August issue of Eos, the newspaper of the American Geophysical Union.
Some of the differences were startling. Lead author Harindra Fernando of Arizona State University reports that in the town of Peraliya, a wave of 10-meter [30-foot] height swept 1.5 kilometers [one mile] inland, carrying a passenger train about 50 meters [200 feet] off its tracks, with a death toll of 1,700. Yet, a mere three kilometers [two miles] south, in Hikkaduwa, the tsunami measured just 2-3 meters [7-10 feet] in height, traveled only 50 meters [200 feet] inland, and caused no deaths.
The researchers found that this pattern of patchy inundation to be characteristic of the study area and was not related to such coastline features as headlands, bays, and river channels. Rather, the key factor was the presence or absence of coral and rock reefs offshore. At Hikkaduwa, the hotel strip is fronted by a rock reef and further protected by coral reefs that the local hoteliers protect and nurture, the researchers report. Relatively little damage and few deaths were recorded from there to Dodanduwa, around six kilometers to the south.
Harvey Leifert | EurekAlert!
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