» Physical Waste
Physical waste results from the damages done to edifices and displacement of objects by the turbulent waters. Tsunami waste includes vegetation, soil, sediment, destroyed buildings, etc. It is important to purge the environment of its physical waste because it is detrimental to the ecosystems and people. Garbage needs to be collected and removed safely and at the same time, in a quick manner before chemicals accumulate and seep into the ground to affect the groundwater.
In the case of the Maldives Islands in the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, most of the debris comprised of demolition waste (destroyed buildings) and vegetation1. The citizens helped to clear out the debris from their properties. While the garbage is being collected by the local townspeople and volunteers and relocated to the designated disposal sites, the debris needs to be sorted in order to separate the hazardous wastes from combustible and normal solid waste. Hazardous wastes have the potential to seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater. Hazardous wastes mainly come from power stations, oil/fuel supply storage areas, fertilizer and pesticide storage areas and the like. In the Thilafushi landfill that handled wastes from the Maldives, a central storage and separation of oils program has been implemented1.
Waste is handled depending on certain characteristics of the waste, such as ignitability, reactivity, corrosivity, compatibility, and physical state2. So as to not pack all the debris in a landfill, the segregation of debris will allow for the burning of some materials. Burning of debris is limited, due to the fact that burning wastes produce gases noxious to humans, such as formaldehydes and sulfur dioxide1. We will consider dumping the garbage more than burning because of this fact.
The waste in the designated disposal sites will be transferred to dumps and landfills. It can be transported by garbage trucks, given that the roads are clear enough to begin mass transport of debris. Landfills must be located in a site where there is maximum separation between the waste and groundwater2. The advantages of this option are that much of the physical waste can be disposed in a timely manner, as long as the transportation of garbage is efficient. The downside to this option is that the landfills need to be managed over time (a person needs to periodically check the leakage systems to verify that the waste will never have contact with the groundwater).
Waste collection can be carried through a Public Works Sector, funded by the government or NGO's. They can supply equipments such as bulldozers and garbage trucks.
» Water Drainage
Immediately following the wave impact (after the area has been declared safe and there is no danger of aftershock waves), any breaches in flood levees or seawalls need to be closed using sandbags or other methods to prevent more water from the inundating the city. Hurricane Katrina provides a perfect example of what to do should a city be inundated with water. By August 31, 2005, Army Corps of Engineering (ACE) began to repair a breach in the 17th Street Canal using 3000 pound sandbags and Chinook helicopters3. In the event that a Micronesian or Peruvian seawall breaches, smaller sandbags, crushed stone, or concrete could be placed to close the breach until permanent repair work begins. Some barriers may need to be mechanically breached in order to allow trapped floodwater to drain out naturally4.
After the wave passes through, a pump team of trained volunteers from the area can begin pumping, using stored portable pumps. The drainage workers must assume that any existing sewer or pipeline systems will be clogged. Many existing pumps or sewers are vulnerable to tsunamis, and we must account for the lack of money and/or supplies. It would be beneficial to erect a permanent sewer system. Portable pumps, such as those volunteered by Dutch Water Management Department, can expel 3,000 cubic meters of water an hour. Each pump can run for 48 hours continuously on one tank of diesel fuel. Dutch water pumps have been used with great success in several countries including Suriname, Poland, and the Netherlands5. Rather than rely on existing pump infrastructures within flooded New Orleans, Army Corps of Engineers coordinators employed three mobile water pumps in Plaquimines Parish, establishing mobile pump stations there to begin pumping while the permanent pump stations in that area underwent repairs5. The pumps should be stored in a high-elevation area away from possible tsunami dangers, perhaps with other emergency equipment.
In larger towns, permanent pumps will be initially covered by floodwater but will come into view as the floodwaters drain. These pumps should be cleaned by the pump team and put into action. After the bulk of the city has been drained, the portable pumps can be used to drain the last remaining water pockets around sewers or especially low-lying areas. The general template for drainage activities based on a worst-case scenario is that each individual situation should be assessed by the inhabitants of the area. A trained group of civilians who know how to operate and repair the pumps could also assess where their services are most needed. Some locations may require the portable pumps to lower water levels until permanent pump stations might be repaired; most locations will not possess a permanent pump station. An early pump assessment by an ACE engineer shows the need for an adaptable pumping plan which allows for flexibility in the face of haphazard damages:
"On the morning of Sept. 7, approximately 60 percent of the city is still under water. Three pumps are now operating at the 17th Street Canal and are discharging water at around 2,250 cubic feet per second, or cfs. Pump station 19 at the Industrial Canal, just north of Florida Avenue, is currently pumping 1,300 cfs. An additional generator is to arrive today that will allow the Corps to activate another pump at this location and remove an additional 1,000 cfs. Pump station 8, located in St. Bernard Parish in the vicinity of St. Mary, is running at full capacity at 837cfs."4
After pumping is finished, the brackish muck remaining from the flood should be cleaned and buried. Toxicity and disease are large concerns, especially in more populated areas. A Time reporter describes the brackish mix as "A solution of oil, feces, battery acid, human and animal rot, burst containers of bug spray and paint thinner and nail polish and antifreeze... and a million other nasty things floating everywhere..."6 The locations that are defined to be at-risk in Peru and Micronesia are smaller than the regions defined in New Orleans. Despite the smaller scale of debris and cleanup activities, all emergency workers must receive tetanus and hepatitis shots, as ACE workers were required to do before entering affected areas.
While the New Orleans drainage team used Lake Ponchartain as a reservoir for the flood muck, freshwater reservoirs in the Peruvian coastal desert and Micronesia are too precious to be used like this. The most practical solution is to empty floodwaters into the ocean; this should be monitored and kept clear of any existing fisheries or water supplies. In areas where the floodwater is not likely to disperse easily (such as a barrier island/lagoon structure in Micronesia) or could harm coral reef structures, care should be taken to disperse water where it will cause the least damage. Although this is not a great solution, diverting floodwaters to an inland reservoir is simply not an option. Cheap, simple filters such as those used to purify water in developing nations could be used to strain the worst muck and toxicity out of the effluent.
When the water is fully drained from the land, then the damaged area may proceed to structural reconstruction.
Decontamination of Water
When a tsunami hits, sea water flows miles inland and deluges streams, rivers, water tanks, wells, and farms along the way, and it also infiltrates the aquifers and contaminates the underground water source. In the long run, the issue will be less much less serious for Micronesia than for Peru; although salt water could infiltrate the porous rocks of the atolls and hamper its fresh water composition in the short run7, vast amount of rain almost throughout the year will wash the chemicals away. It could, however, be a major problem in Peruvian villages, where vast majority of drinking water comes from wells and streams, and in its metropolitan areas, where it requires a grand-scale water purification system and a pipe network.
Firstly, the tsunami could severely contaminate the wells of a coastal village. Under such circumstance, it will require specialists to conduct a so-called Water Quality Test, which includes testing for coliform bacteria, nitrates, pH, sodium, chloride, fluoride, sulphate, iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, and hardness8. Villagers have to remember that water that looks and tastes good isn't necessarily good for health. If the well was tested as having been contaminated, steps to decontaminate the well should follow. Major steps include: pumping and rinsing a few times, chemical disinfecting using potable desalting machines and water purification tablets, supplying test kits to local residents and training them to detect bacteria in the long run. Another solution to the problem will be to dig deep wells, usually 6 meters underground, somewhere else9. On small islands where fresh water resource is almost completely destroyed, one good way, instead of decontaminating all the wells, would be to relocate the residents onto mainland in the short run and wait for the aquifers to reach self-correct.
On the other hand, cities face a problem on a much larger scale, although not necessarily more difficult than that the villages face. The only way a Peruvian city's water source would be severely damaged would be that the tsunami sends salt water and debris into the river source. In the long run, the saltwater and debris would be able to alter the water quality of the river. This requires the city's water factories to improve the processes of chemical disinfecting (Halazone tablets, Superchlorination-dechlorination method, and Iodine) and filtering (layers of rocks and sands, etc.)10.
Lastly, there are machines that turn salt water into fresh water currently used by the UNICEF11. The machines could be applied to both villages and cities. If the supply of such machines is limited, some coastal regions can even try building their own desalting machines-a giant still, for example.
The entire process of decontamination depends on the strength of the tsunami and what it infiltrates. If wells are rendered undrinkable, they still need to be decontaminated to prevent further contamination of groundwater.
Disposal of Bodies
A temporary mortuary site should be established to properly store, identify, and bury the bodies. Rapid burning or mass burial of the corpses without a community memorial service traumatizes survivors and impedes their grieving process12. Mass burials are permissible only in hot climates where a temporary mortuary site does not exist. Corpses themselves usually do not pose a health risk unless the dead are victims of an infectious disease such as Ebola or typhus; otherwise healthy people who perish in a tsunami are not dangerous. The mortuary includes a reception room, viewing room, storage chamber, and records office. Maintaining the storage chamber at 4 C/39.2 F minimizes corpse decay and allows for a longer identification period before burial. Mortuary workers-Search and Rescue personnel, NGO volunteers, or citizens with mortuary experience-must adhere to strict sanitary protocol. Gloves, protective clothing, and a disinfectant wash before leaving the mortuary prove vital in regions affected by AIDS or other epidemics.
Identification of the dead is easiest in areas where drivers' licenses, ID cards, and credit accounts are common12. Unfortunately, most areas designated high-risk include rural villages where these items are uncommon. If a quick ID check fails, a tissue sample, photograph of the deceased, and list of personal belongings found with the body should be compiled to aid later forensic identification techniques. As survivors enter evacuation camps, relief workers will ask each person to register their name on a computer database and list any missing family members. Each identified body will be registered as deceased so that surviving family members may receive certain knowledge of their relative's whereabouts and claim the body if they so choose. This database should be updated every four hours by sending the modified data through shortwave radios to the nation's central relief agency13. The central relief agency will then issue the modified database to relief groups and refugee camps in the affected area, enabling survivors to ascertain the status of family members. In the even that a matching photo is unavailable, a tissue sample will aid later identification by comparison with survivors' tissue data. Each identified body receives an official death certificate and identification tag.
If possible given the final death toll, individual graves provide dignity and a sense of closure for survivors. Before the tsunami ever occurs, a grave site near the community should be designated with consideration given to nearby water sources and soil conditions. The severe land shortage present in Micronesia may require dedicating an island to the dead or alternative disposal methods. Unidentified bodies may be buried in a mass grave 50 centimeters from the surface to allow for later disinterment and forensic identification12. Due to the likely shortage of coffins, plastic sheets are a practical option to prevent remains from mixing with the surrounding soil. In some areas, such as remote parts of Micronesia, cultural values may dictate cremation or sea burial rather than a graveyard. Relief workers should allow these communities to mourn the dead in their own way while remaining available to help with any memorial service or disposal. Ceremonial burials are a vital part of community recovery. While some families may wish to plan their own memorial service, a formal community recognition of the dead is an important step to psychological recovery.
1. Ministry of Atolls Development, Ministry of Communication, Science & Technology, Ministry of Environment and Construction, Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, & Ministry of Planning and National Development, Ministry of Tourism, Department of Meteorology et al. (2005). Maldives: Post-tsunami environmental assessment
2. Headquarters Department of the Army. (1984). Hazardous waste land Disposal/Land treatment facilities
No. TM 5-814-7
3. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2005, August 31). The U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers progresses in hurricane recovery efforts. Archived News Releases. Retrieved October 24, 2005
4. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2005, September 5). Up-date on the New Orleans flood fight. Archived News Releases. Retrieved October 24, 2005
5. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2005, September 15). Corps mark halfway point in unwatering mission. Archived News Releases. Retrieved October 2, 2005.
6. Cloud, John. (2005, September 19). Mopping New Orleans. Time Magazine.
7. Tsunami's salt threat to islands. BBC News Science/Nature. Retrieved 27 October 2005.
8. Water Quality Test. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Retrieved 28 October 2005
9. Situation Report 30. World Health Organization. Retrieved 28 October 2005
10. Water Treatment Methods. High Altitude Medicine Guide. Retrieved 29 October 2005
11. Handunnetti, D. (2005). SciDev Net. Sri Lankan crops and water hit by tsunami salt. Retrieved 29 October 2005.
12. United Nations World Health Organization. Environmental health in emergencies and disasters (Ch. 14). Retrieved November 19, 2005
13. Terrascope Team Six. (2005). Integration of components into a cohesive system. Retrieved November 15, 2005.