In late January, the American Society of Civil Engineers sent three teams to the tsunami disaster zone to conduct damage assessments. Here is the final field report from the Thai team.

Feb.3, 2005–One of the surprising findings of this investigation is the prevalent use of high-density polyethylene piping for potable water. Much of this piping was exposed due to erosion and subjected to harsh conditions from debris and waves. The piping performed very well, with few failures. The material is flexible, allowing it to conform to new contours after the erosion. It is also very light, making repairs very easy.

An observation from this investigation that is different from many others around the world is that repair/restoration is moving very rapidly. Unfortunately for documentation, much of the debris has been cleared from the hundreds of kilometers of the inundation areas. Sixty percent of the damaged/destroyed buildings have been demolished and removed. Half of the remaining buildings are undergoing restoration; more than one percent of those already open–a true testament to the resiliency of the people of Thailand.

In stark contrast to the mainland recovery efforts, the island of Phi Phi (where 3,000 people were killed) is only now beginning to recover. This island is mostly privately owned, and is accessible only by boat or helicopters. As a result, recovery has been slow. Complicating the rebuilding process is that at the outset, the state government would not permit the disposal of collected debris. That was apparently reversed in early February; clearing and disposal by barge is now progressing.

Our impression is that Thailand will likely begin a planning process to limit construction in the vulnerable areas so as to avoid future catastrophes, and that much of the formerly developed area that devastated will apparently be converted to a memorial park.

Curtis Edwards is a vice president with San Diego, Calif.-based environmental enginnering conultant Pountney Psomas. He is also ASCE's Thailand team leader.