Another devastating tornado 7 years later: Jamalpur-Tangail Tornado (13 May 1996)

Over 700 killed and 32,000 people injured in 20 minutes

A family of tornadoes struck northern Bangladesh on Monday 13 May 1996, seven years after Daulatpur-Saturia tornado. The deadly storm killed over 700 people and injured more than 32,000 in a 20-min outburst of destruction. It struck hardest in the Tangail Zilla (District), 45 miles north of Dhaka. The 125-mph winds of the twister tore through 6 thanas, 16 unions, and 80 villages of the Tangail district, completely destroying 17,000 houses and partially 7,000 more.

Hail the size of softballs pummeled the affected area as the twister moved to the south-southeast at 45 km/hr (30 mph) for 80 km (55 miles). It snapped telephone lines, uprooted many trees, and was, without a doubt, the most devastating after the Daulatpur-Saturia Tornado of 1989.

65 bodies were found suspended in trees. 30,000 houses were destroyed and 1,600 cattle were lost. A 600 kg pump machine was thrown 56 m. The Tangail district was the hardest hit. Many people were blown long distances. One person was blown 1.5 km.


It took the tornado less than a half an hour to flatten 80 villages, killing scores of people with scraps of tin roofs and tree branches transformed into missiles by the 125 mile-per-hour winds.


Despite this nation's long and deadly history of natural disasters, nobody was prepared for a tornado that raced through at 125 mph, killing at least 443 people and injuring more than 32,000.

Tearing tin roofs to shreds and turning tree branches into deadly missiles, Monday's twister flattened 80 villages, blew away more than 10,000 mostly mud-and-straw huts and buried dozens of people alive in a 20-minute burst of destruction.

L.A. Times (USA) (15 May 1996)

The death toll resulting from the tornadoes that struck on 13 May 1996 in north-central Bangladesh, has reached 558 with hundreds still unaccounted for. The official Government statistics cite 19,990 families affected (98,550 people), 37,248 injured, 36,420 houses destroyed or damaged, and 6,787 head of livestock killed. Infected wounds, polluted wells, and lack of sanitary facilities add to other problems resulting from this sudden disaster. There are concerns that the death toll may rise as more bodies are recovered and others die of their injuries or secondary infections.

The bizarre nature of tornadoes was illustrated yet again when it was reported that 200 cast iron tube wells were pulled out of the ground by the powerful winds.

(24 May 1996)

Bangladesh Government responds 24 hours later as local hospitals overwhelmed by casualties

The scope of destruction was massive and very quickly local hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of injured and fatalities. Thousands arrived for treatment, many of them bleeding from cuts. Hospitals were forced to turn away victims and survivors accused the Government of failing to provide emergency assistance.

It took more than 24 hours for the Bangladesh government to organize relief efforts for the tornado victims. The state radio station informed the country about the tornado on its evening news and initially had reported the doll toll at 22. This gross underestimation is cited as one possible reason as to why the Government failed to send relief workers and supplies immediately.

Death toll generally reflects the severity of an environmental disaster and a death toll of 22 is not considered extensive. This was one reason why the government failed to immediately send rescuers and supplies to the tornado-ravaged areas. However, local government authorities and volunteers began distributing rice, wheat, and other goods to the victims immediately after the tornado passed through.


The problem was further compounded by downed communications lines in the affected areas. The tornado snapped telephone lines and uprooted many trees between Tangail and Dhaka, making it difficult for anyone to reach most of the affected area for hours. Many more dead bodies were found when government relief workers reached the affected areas.

The extent of horror was unfolded on Tuesday night, a day after the tornado, when state TV announced that the death toll had reached 443.

The number of injured quickly overwhelmed the local hospitals as thousands arrived for treatment, many of them bleeding from cuts.

At least 120 of the dead came from Bashail, a village where the victims included students in a boarding school building that collapsed on top of them, said Irsat Jahan, the local administrator.

"When the killer storm came, I saw the tin roofs of homes cut into pieces and flying everywhere," said Reazuddin Ahmed, a 45-year-old weaver from Rampur village.

When the sky darkened and the winds began to howl, Mr. Ahmed said, he gathered his wife and three children near a cement wall alongside a road near their home and prayed.

There they watched the tornado toss the village's many wooden and tin-roofed houses into the air and reduce several larger buildings, including a movie house, to rubble.

The Ahmeds survived, but at least 55 of their neighbors died. On Tuesday, their bodies were retrieved and lined up for burial in a soccer field near a collapsed school building.

Deaths were also reported in five neighboring villages. Many of the survivors were left alone to search for the bodies of their relatives and to prepare for their burial.

They included Noorjahan Begum, a 50-year-old who lost her daughter, a sister and a brother-in-law.

"She was playing with her friends just minutes before the tragedy struck," Mrs. Begum said, pointing at her daughter's body covered with a torn quilt.

At a Government hospital in Tangail, Mohammad Arif, a 10-year-old boy, was writhing on a floor alongside six bodies wrapped in bedspreads.

The 200-bed hospital was overwhelmed with more than 1,000 injured, many of whom lay on its floors.

A nurse treating the boy said the hospital quickly ran out of bandages, medicine and surgical equipment. She said at least 50 people died shortly after arrival.

Altaf Hossain, who runs a medical store in Tangail, said he saw the hospital authorities turn away four pickup trucks that arrived, some filled with bodies, some with injured people. He said the doctors refused to admit the injured, saying they had no space left.

New York Times (USA)

It looked like hell had been let loose. It was dust and wind everywhere. We prayed to God: 'Save us,' " said Babul Ahmed, Reazuddin's 10-year-old son.

The Ahmeds survived, but at least 55 of their neighbors died. On Tuesday, their bodies were retrieved and lined up for burial in a soccer field near a collapsed school building.

Many of the survivors were left alone to search for the bodies of their relatives and to prepare for their burial.

L.A. Times (USA)

Bangladesh's effort to improve weather forecast

  • # Bangladesh Meteorological Department ()
  • # Diasaster Management Information Center (DMIC) of Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) ()
  • # Sylhet Met Office (including pic) ()
  • # Bangladesh Tornadoes () American Metereologist Jonathan Finch's site dedicated to predicting Bangladesh tornadoes
  • #   ()

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can be monitored if state-of-the-art forecasting and monitoring devices are put in place. With modern forecasting and monitoring machineries it is possible to warn people to take precautionary measures against such natural disasters.

Arjumand Habib, Deputy Director of Bangladesh’s Department of Meteorology