August 9, 2005

Hawaii Study: Trees Buffer Tsunami Impact

HONOLULU (AP) -- Planting trees and bushy plants between buildings and the ocean helped to lessen the impact of the waves when the Dec. 26 killer tsunami struck in the Maldives Islands, University of Hawaii researchers said.

Planting pandanus (hala) trees and plants such as hibiscus, which are less intrusive than mangrove, is among the observations contained in a study by Barbara Keating and Charles Helsley published in the online "Science of Tsunami Hazards" journal.

"They do a really good job of catching rocks and slowing water," Keating said.

Concrete walls and safety glass in hotel lobbies also helped reduce injuries.

The observations by the UH researchers, who traveled to the Maldives about six weeks after the tsunami that killed about 180,000 people and left another 50,000 unaccounted for in 11 countries, could one day make hotels and other buildings in Hawaii safer.

"I wanted to go and study the tsunami impact there because if we were to have something similar happen here, the damage will be of a similar nature," said Keating, who hopes to find funding for more research on protecting buildings from tsunamis. "I knew it was directly connected to us here in the Pacific."

Many in the Maldives were poor to begin with and dependent on the tourism industry, but the tourists have stopped coming because of damage to the hotels, Helsley said.

"In a way it was like what happened after Hurricane Iniki on Kauai, where basically the economic engine for the island stopped and it was years before it got started again," he said. "There wasn't a lot of loss of life, but it was a loss of a way of life."

Keating, who traveled to Sri Lanka in June to work with that country's government to improve their tsunami response, is trying to set up a program to train Sri Lankan scientists in Hawaii on tsunamis and seismology.

"A lot of people that live here now were not here at the time the last tsunami came," Helsley said. "We have to have continuing education in Hawaii."


Information from: Honolulu Star-Bulletin,