The Pakistan Cyclone of 1970

About the cyclone thar hit East Pakistan or Bangladesh in 1970, history of the disaster and destruction of the aftermath.

CYCLONE OVER PAKISTAN

November in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) is cyclone weather. Each year the lowlands of the Ganges delta, off the Bay of Bengal, face tropical storms that inevitably take a toll of lives and property. But not since the Yangtze River flooded Central China in 1931 had there been such a murderous storm or gruesome death count. On that fall night, 800 mi. south of the Ganges delta, winds whipped along at 150 mph, dragging in their vacuum wake a 20' wave of water that would devastate East Pakistan.

When: November 12, 1970.

Where: East Pakistan

The Loss: Loss of life estimated at a million or more.

The Disaster: There was a full moon on November 12 and tides were at their highest when the cyclone ripped into the islands and coastline. A U.S. satellite report had been relayed to the Pakistanis, but their own meteorological system had already predicted when the storm would strike. Warnings were broadcast, but there weren't enough receiving sets; and the warnings said nothing about huge waves. Even if they had, it wouldn't have altered the outcome, as most of the areas hit were no more than a few feet above sea level. When the big waves rolled in, there was no safe place for people to retreat to; tens of thousands drowned with their doomed live-stock. Those who did find temporary safety on rooftops saw the big waves approach with apprehension and were certain it was the end of the world.

Of the 26,000 residents of Manpura, only 6,500 survived. A week after the disaster, Maynard Parker of Newsweek reported:

Today I flew over the worst-hit islands in the Ganges delta and everywhere the grisly sight is much the same. The bodies, blackened and bloated from the salt water, lie strewn across the landscape like big plastic dolls struck down by a petulant child. A few are sprawled in paddies and some wash in on the gentle tide, but most float face down in the canals that reach in like grasping fingers from the brown water of the Bay of Bengal. The decaying flesh fills the air with a sickening smell, attracting vultures which come to feast on the carcasses of man and beast.

Everywhere the rich rice fields were ruined. Drinking water was scarce. Food and medical supplies were not to be had. In a few days, there were outbreaks of cholera.

Aftermath: Immediately after the tragedy the U.S. pledged $10 million for relief. Communist China pledged $1.4 million. Britain dispatched her Royal Marines, a helicopter carrier, food, and medical supplies. India, too, sent money and food. Unfortunately, though there was no shortage of planes bringing in food and medical supplies, they didn't reach the people who needed them. There were too few airfields and most of these were submerged. Trucks were in abundance, but there were no roads. Much of the incoming supplies ended up on docks and in Dacca's warehouses. A high percentage found its way into the black market.

Tomorrow: Four years before the disaster, elaborate storm-warning systems were developed. Hundreds of miles of dikes were built. But they were too few and too weak. By the tomorrow after tomorrow, more precautionary measures will be in effect, but the major hope of Bengalis is that future storms will be less powerful.

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