1991 Bangladesh cyclone

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Super Cyclonic Storm BOB 01
Super cyclonic storm (IMD scale)
Category 5 (Saffir–Simpson scale)
1991 Bangladesh Cyclone 29 apr 1991 0623Z.jpg
Visible satellite image from 06:23 UTC on April 29, 1991. The cyclone was a Category 4 cyclone, and was rapidly intensifying, when this image was taken.
Formed April 24, 1991
Dissipated April 30, 1991
Highest winds 3-minute sustained: 240 km/h (150 mph)
1-minute sustained: 260 km/h (160 mph)
Lowest pressure 918 hPa (mbar); 27.11 inHg
Fatalities 138,866 total
Damage $1.7 billion (1991 USD)
Areas affected Bangladesh
Part of the 1991 North Indian Ocean cyclone season

The 1991 Bangladesh cyclone (IMD designation:BOB 01, JTWC designation:02B) was among the deadliest tropical cyclones on record. On the night of 29 April 1991 a powerful tropical cyclone struck the Chittagong district of southeastern Bangladesh with winds of around 250 km/h (155 mph). The storm forced a 6-metre (20 ft) storm surge inland over a wide area, killing at least 138,000 people and leaving as many as 10 million homeless.[1]

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

During April 22, 1991, an area of westerly winds and persistent cloudiness within the equatorial regions of the North Indian Ocean spawned a large tropical disturbance over the Bay of Bengal.[2][3] The system was subsequently declared a depression by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) early on April 24, as the cloud mass associated with the system encompassed most of the Bay.[2][4]

The tropical storm continued slowly northwestward, slowly strengthening to a cyclone-strength storm on the 27th. The cyclone moved between a high pressure system to its northwest and east, and as mid-level westerlies met up with the storm, the cyclone moved northeastward. The westerlies enhanced upper level outflow, and in combination with warm water temperatures the cyclone steadily strengthened to a major hurricane on the 28th.

On the 28th and 29th, as the system increased its speed to the north-northeast, the cyclone rapidly intensified to 1-minute sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h), the equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. Late on the 29th, Cyclone 02B made landfall a short distance south of Chittagong as a slightly weaker 155 mph (250 km/h) Category 4 cyclone. The storm rapidly weakened over land, and dissipated on the 30th over southeast Asia.[5]


Bodies of people drowned by the cyclone in Sandwip

Fatalities and health crisis[edit]

Flooding around the Karnaphuli River in Bangladesh

At least 138,000 people were killed by the storm,[6] with around 25,000 dead in Chittagong, 40,000 dead in Banshkali and 8,000 dead in Kutubdia . Most deaths were from drowning, with the highest mortality among children and the elderly. Although cyclone shelters had been built after the 1970 Bhola cyclone, many had just a few hours of warning and did not know where to go for shelter. Others who knew about the storm refused to evacuate because they did not believe the storm would be as bad as forecast. Even so, it is estimated over 2 million people did evacuate from the most dangerous areas, possibly mitigating the disaster substantially.

On the island of Sonodia its inhabitants were suffering from diarrhea from drinking contaminated water, respiratory and urinary infections, scabies and various injuries with only rice for food and contaminated drinking water. Out of the ten wells on the island only 5 were functional of which only one providing pure water with the rest contaminated by sea water.

Property damage[edit]

A damaged village in Bangladesh, surrounded by flooded fields, three weeks after the storm had struck

The storm caused an estimated $1.5 billion (1991 US dollars) in damage.[7] The high velocity wind and the storm surge devastated the coastline. Although a concrete levee was in place near the mouth of the Karnaphuli River in Patenga, it was washed away by the storm surge. The cyclone uprooted a 100-ton crane from the Port of Chittagong, and smashed it on the Karnaphuli River Bridge, effectively breaking it into two partitions.[8] A large number of boats and smaller ships ran aground. Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force, both of which had bases in Chittagong, were also heavily hit. The Isha Khan Naval Base at Patenga was flooded, with heavy damages to the ships.[9] Most of the fighter planes belonging to the air force were damaged. Approximately 1 million homes were destroyed, leaving about 10 million people (a substantial portion of Bangladesh's population) homeless.[10] The extensive damage caused the price of building materials to greatly increase.

Environmental impact[edit]

The storm surge subsequently caused the embankment, as well as whole villages, to be swept away. For an additional three to four weeks after the storm had dissipated, mass land erosion resulted in more and more farmers losing their land, and therefore, the number of unemployed rose.[11] In several areas up to 90 percent of crops had been washed away. The shrimp farms and salt industry were left devastated.


Bangladeshis unloading international aid from a US helicopter

The United States amphibious task-force, consisting of 15 ships and 2,500 men, returning to the US after the Gulf War was diverted to the Bay of Bengal to provide relief to an estimated 1.7 million survivors. This was part of Operation Sea Angel, one of the largest military disaster relief efforts ever carried out, with the United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan and Japan also participating.[12]

Operation Sea Angel began on May 10, 1991, when President Bush directed the US military to provide humanitarian assistance.[13] A Contingency Joint Task Force under the command of Lieutenant General Henry C. Stackpole, consisting of over 400 Marines and 3,000 sailors, was subsequently sent to Bangladesh to provide food, water, and medical care to nearly two million people.[14] The efforts of U.S. troops, which included 3,300 tons of supplies, are credited with having saved as many as 200,000 lives.[15] The relief was delivered to the hard-hit coastal areas and low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal by helicopter, boat and amphibious craft.

The US military also provided medical and engineering teams to work with their Bangladeshi counterparts[16] and international relief organisation to treat survivors and contain an outbreak of diarrhea, caused by contaminated drinking water. Water purification plants were built and prevalence of diarrhea amongst the population was reduced to lower than pre-cyclone levels.[17]

After the departure of the task force, 500 military personal, two C-130 cargo planes, five Blackhawk helicopters and four small landing craft from the task force remained to help finish off relief operations in outlying districts and rebuild warehouses. The amphibious landing ship USS St. Louis (LKA-116) delivered large quantities of intravenous solution from Japan to aid in the treatment of cyclone survivors.[18][19]

As a result of the 1991 cyclone, Bangladesh improved its warning and shelter systems.[20] Also, the government implemented a reforestation program to mitigate future flooding issues.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Unattributed (2012). "NOAA's Top Global Weather, Water and Climate Events of the 20th Century" (PDF). NOAA Backgrounder. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b JTWC Annual Tropical Cyclone Report 1991: Tropical Cyclone 02B (PDF). Joint Typhoon Warning Center (Report). United States Navy, United States Airforce. 1992. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Tropical Cyclone 02B Best Track". Joint Typhoon Warning Center. United States Navy, United States Airforce. 2002-12-01. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  4. ^ Bangladesh Cyclone, April 24-30 1991 (PDF) (Report on Cyclonic Disturbances (Depressions and Tropical Cyclones) over North Indian Ocean in 1991). India Meteorological Department. January 1992. p. 4. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  5. ^ Odow, Silas (2015-02-16). Greatest Ever...Hurricanes and Typhoons. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781312906402. 
  6. ^ "Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2008: North America and Asia suffer heavy losses" (PDF). Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd. 21 January 2009. p. 38. Retrieved 18 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "Weather Events: Significant Severe Cyclones Striking Bangladesh". www.islandnet.com. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  8. ^ "'91 cyclone still haunts survivors". archive.thedailystar.net. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  9. ^ M.Z. Hossain; M.T. Islam; T. Sakai; M. Ishida (April 2008). "Impact of Tropical Cyclones on Rural Infrastructures in Bangladesh". Agricultural Engineering International: the CIGR Ejournal. X. 
  10. ^ "Cyclone kills 135,000 in Bangladesh - Apr 29, 1991 - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  11. ^ "BANGLADESH SURVIVORS DESPERATE FOR AID". NPR: Morning Edition. May 3, 1991. 
  12. ^ http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/sea_angel.htm
  13. ^ Berke, Richard L. (1991-05-12). "U.S. SENDS TROOPS TO AID BANGLADESH IN CYCLONE RELIEF". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  14. ^ McCarthy, Paul A. (1994-01-01). "Operation Sea Angel: A Case Study". 
  15. ^ Press, From Associated (1991-05-29). "U.S. Forces Heading Home After Cyclone Mission". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  16. ^ "The Bangladesh Cyclone of 1991" (PDF). 
  17. ^ "1991 Cyclone relief" (PDF). US Navy. 
  18. ^ "BANGLADESH AIR FORCE IN DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACTIVITIES". www.baf.mil.bd. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  19. ^ "Armies help govts worldwide to tackle terror, disasters". www.thenews.com.pk. Retrieved 2016-04-29. 
  20. ^ "Bangladesh cyclone of 1991 - Facts & Summary - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2016-09-16. 
  21. ^ "Bangladesh cyclone of 1991 | tropical cyclone". Retrieved 2016-09-16. 

External links[edit]