Sunday, May 24, 2009

Flirting with the Past: Bangladesh Cyclone of May, 1985


Map adapted from:

This girl in Urir Char was grief-stricken
at the loss of her father in the cyclone

All photos (May 28, 1985) taken by Jerome D'Costa

Twelve-year old Jahanara lost her mother,
brother and sister in the tidal wave in Urir Char

Her eyes tell stories of pain brought about
by the cyclone in Sandwip

That's all left of a house after the 5-metre (16-feet)
high tidal waves swept over the Urir Char

No trace of the house that was once standing
at this place in Urir Char

Tha's all left of a house and belongings of this boy's family
in Urir Char

In Urir Char, these two small cyclone shelters
were the only standing structures. All other thatched houses
were washed away by the tidal bore

This cyclone, with tidal waves rising from three to five metres (about 10 to 16 feet) in the Bay of Bengal started in the midnight of May 24, 1985 and continued for about four hours. Today is the 24th anniversary of that dreadful cyclone that had 160 miles per hour wind and that killed more than 11,000 people in the offshore islands. The affected were Hatia, Urir Char and north-western part of Sandwip. One of the worst affected was Urir Char (char in Bangla means a piece of land that rises in a river or coastal area due to heavy silting) with about 20 square kilometres (about 12 sq. miles) area.

Simon Munshi, Ferdaus Daud Haider, Hubert Dores and I, on behalf of World Vision of Bangladesh -- an international NGO -- went to Urir Char on May 28, 1985 via Sandwip Island to asses the damage for relief and rehabilitation work. When we reached this island, it was under knee-deep water. Not a single house was standing except two small cyclone shelters in one corner of the island. Very few people took shelter in the cyclone shelters. They did not leave their houses for fear of losing their household items, food grains and domestic animals to thieves. Out of about 2,800 families in the island, only forty surviving persons were present in the island -- others were either drowned or washed away to the Bay of Bengal.

I had never witnessed such a destruction of human life, animals and property in my life. Bookmark and Share