Temporary Bailey bridge spans damage bridge in Karaikal (Photo by ASCE)

In late January, the American Society of Civil Engineers sent three teams to the tsunami disaster zone to conduct damage assessments. This is another field report from the India team, filed as they returned home.

The team traveled to the Indian Institute of Technology’s Madras (Chennai) campus to meet with members of the Institute’s Structural Engineering Division. Under the supervision of Dr. Meher Prasad, the division had conducted investigations of damaged areas along the eastern and southwestern coasts of India, as well as in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that lie east of India in the Bay of Bengal. While their investigations focused primarily on structural damage rather than impacts to lifelines, the presentations were extremely helpful in guiding the ASCE team to sites on which we could focus our efforts.

We spent the first day in Chennai proper investigating damage to the Port of Chennai and interviewing government relief officials. Being reasonably well-protected along the waterfront, the city itself did not suffer any major damage to structures or lifelines. Damage to facilities within the port occurred, but was generally limited to impact damage caused by vessels attempting to escape the port during the tsunami. In addition, sediment and breakwater armor shifted within and around the port.

On the second day of the investigation, the team moved south along the coast into less-developed areas. Damage in these areas was much more extensive than in Chennai, particularly in the fishing villages situated directly on the beaches. The homes in such villages are typically roofed–and in some cases entirely built–with palm fronds and similar thatch-like material. Most of the home walls are masonry assembled with weak mortar.

We traveled southward to the town of Pondicherry, where we investigated damaged villages, relief camps, and the Pondicherry seawall and waterfront. At the end of the day, the team split into two groups for the remainder of the week. The first group...