Tsunami Impact: Report on the First Post-Tsunami Expedition to Block II

The tsunami impact on Yala National Park Block I had been surveyed and documented by CCR. However, the impact on the other areas of Yala such as Block II and Yala East remained unknown, due to their remoteness and the difficulty of access. Therefore the DWLC and CCR undertook an expedition to assess the impact and to decide on visitor access to Block II.

The expedition was conducted on the 3rd of February 2005. The DWLC provided a crew of 25 people led by the Assistant Director Southern Region Mr. Jayaratne and Park Warden Yala Mr. Weragama, and three vehicles, including a 4WD tractor. Mr. White, a former Park Warden of Yala also joined the expedition, and Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya from World Bank represented the donors. The CCR team comprised of eight persons and two vehicles.

The first site visited was Yalawela (picture 1) close to the Menik Ganga estuary (Moya). The sand bank that seasonally closes the Moya at Yala was not present and the main flow of the river to the sea, occurred through the direct route. [This opening is closed by a sand bank that builds up seasonally and then the river parallels the coast for approximately 4 km and joins the sea at the Pilinnawa estuary.]

The tsunami had broken through the low sand banks close to the Moya and flooded the Yalawela. Most of the grass and almost all of the herbs in the Yalawela area appeared to have suffered from inundation by sea water and was dead and dried up. However, some of the grass was already regenerating and the characteristic buffalo herds were very much in evidence in the short grass savannah like Yalawela area. Much of the scrub forest between the beach and the Yalawela had been obliterated by the tsunami and some of the trees were strewn across the road and the short grass areas, as tangled masses of dried up brown vegetation. Much of the road was extremely muddy and was navigated with difficulty. The Plinnawa short grass fields were also flooded by the tsunami. While tree debris was less here, flooding caused damage similar to the Yalawela.

The next site visited was the Pilinnawa Moya (picture 2). In parts, the road was blocked by tsunami debris and had to be cleared. Some of the mangrove vegetation at Pilinnawa was badly damaged by the force of the wave. While some of it was completely uprooted and transported some distance, some of it was broken off at the trunk. Most of the impacted stands of mangroves showed signs of regeneration.

The convoy then proceeded to Katupila Ara. The water level was low enough and the convoy crossed it without mishap. However, the road was extremely muddy and progress was very slow. On a number of occasions the vehicles got stuck and the services of the tractor were called for. Uda Pottana was reached around 3 pm. Tree debris obstructed the road close to the beach and the vehicles had to be stopped some way away and the beach approached on foot.

The tsunami had come ashore at Pottana (picture 3) with much force and the scrub forest vegetation close to the beach was heavily impacted. Similar to most other areas of impact, the main force of the wave appeared to have been directed at the deepest point of the bay in a westerly direction. However, as the ground rises fairly uniformly from the shore to the West, the impacted area was comparatively small. Part of the wave had come in through the Pottana lagoon and inundated the short grass fields. There also appeared to be an area of scrub forest impacted, to the East of the lagoon.

The tank was breached and completely emptied. Consequently no fresh water would be available for visitors who intend camping out and the Pottana camp site would have to be closed till new arrangements are made to provide water. Pottana is known to have been an ancient sea port. The tsunami had unearthed pieces of terracotta pottery probably dating back many centuries. In places, numbers of shark cartilage which possibly had been stored in the pots were found. Historically, these are believed to have been used as currency. Some of the terracota rims of the ancient wells that are supposed to have existed here were found to be broken and strewn about.

A decision was made to proceed to Kumbukkan Oya and for the DWLC team to stay the night and return the next day. There appeared to be little impact of the tsunami at Pahala Pottana. However, the Gajabawa plains were also flooded and tree debris was observed in the lagoon. The road was very difficult and muddy and after a number of breakages and on the road repairs, the team arrived at Kumbukkan Oya after night fall.

Camp was made close to the river and the next day the return journey undertaken. Because of the damage sustained by CCR vehicles, the CCR team too returned with the rest. Read the story with a detailed description of this expedition...

Read the story with a detailed description of this expedition...

Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka