Tsunami Expert Shares His Sri Lanka Expedition

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"Just bricks thrown all over the sand, these houses were just literally demolished," said Texas A&M assistant professor, Patrick Lynett.

Lynett couldn't believe his eyes when he saw Sri-lanka. He and five engineers from other universities went to the tsunami ravaged coast to measure water levels and survey the damage.

"On average through most of the island, the tsunami came in with a height of around 15 to 20 feet. There are some locations where it came in much higher at 30 feet. And in the place where the land was flat, the tsunami went inland almost 1/3 to 1/2 of a mile," said Lynett.

Lynett and his fellow scientists will use the data to educate people. Understanding tsunami behavior can mean the difference between life and death. And for one village in Sri Lanka it was, the village only lost three people.

"The reason so many people survived there, was that there was one person in the village who knew how to recognize that a tsunami was coming," said Lynett.

The scientists hope their findings will also educate people about coastal development. Lynett said most hospitals were right along the coast, creating a perfect formula for disaster.

"As the tsunami comes in, it completely floods and destroys the hospital taking with it all the doctors and all the patients, it's like a doubled edged sword," said Lynett.

Near the end of January, Lynett will use a wave tank to recreate the tsunami. He said simulating what happened that deadly day can help predict future tsunamis, design evacuation routes for coastal towns, and ultimately save lives.