This week sees the 25th anniversary of the world’s deadliest tornado.
On 26 April 1989 a massive twister struck the Manikganj District of central Bangladesh.
What became known as the Daulatpur-Saturia Tornado struck at around 1830 local time. Countless trees were uprooted and all dwellings within a 6 square km area of the tornado’s path were completely destroyed.
The tornado was estimated to have been 1.5km wide and it created a path of death and destruction along an 80km path. 1,300 people lost their lives, 12.000 were injured and 80,000 made homeless.
”I saw black clouds gathering in the sky,” said Sayeda Begum, a 30-year-old resident of Saturia. ”In moments we found we were flying along with the house.”
The tornado was part of an outbreak which also saw another 5 people killed and 500 injured in the Narsingdi district, 40km east of Dhaka.
Because of the poor quality of building construction across the region, it is impossible to accurately gauge the strength of the winds which occurred. But estimates suggest a range of 180 to 350kph.
Although the country’s tornado season is much shorter than that of North America, it is far deadlier. This is because of an absence of a sophisticated warning system plus the lack of tornado shelters and buildings capable of withstanding the destructive winds.
That the Daulatpur-Saturia tornado struck during the month of April was no surprise. Although tornadoes have been recorded as early as January and as late as October, the country has a very short season which runs from mid-March to mid-May with a strong peak during April.
The deadliest tornadoes to hit the country in the last half century confirm this:
17 April 1973: 681 people also killed in Manikganj although the unofficial death toll was over 1000.
11 April 1977: 500 people killed. Solenama village completely flattened.
13 May 1996: 700 people killed as a family of tornadoes swept southeast across Tangal district.
1 April 1972: At least 200 people killed in the north of the country. The Bangladesh Observer described the scene as if the area ‘had been leveled by 1000 bulldozers’.
Unfortunately, with the country’s population density continuing to increase, the risk of a similar event occurring in the near future is all too real.