Who knows in which coastal belt their souls are flying now!

Lt Col Md Shahadat Hossain (Retd)

Lt Col Md Shahadat Hossain (Retd)

Tribute to Those Souls who departed from Bangladesh on 29 April 1991
I was then sleeping at Kayangghat Army camp in the mid night, 21 years ago, 29th April 1991, when one of the most powerful and devastating tropical cyclone struck Chittagong and other coastal areas of Bangladesh. The sentry on duty beside our so called thatched camp officers’ mess called me up by his abnormal shouting. I thought there might be any incident by so called Shantibahini, the then insurgent group of CHT. But before realizing anything I could feel that something might fall over my head for which the sentry was repeatedly requesting me to come out of my accommodation. Once I forced myself out of the door could quickly realize the heavy storm passing over the camp. I was quickly taken away several yards by the strong wind, however, was lucky to hold a jack fruit tree with my both hands rounding it very strongly. I was realizing lot of responsibilities as camp commander about how to save my men, arms, ammunition, equipments etc but was not dare to remove my strong hold from the tree and thus was unable to move due to strong wind. So, I kept shouting towards my soldiers whoever may listen.

The storm ended at one stage, though I didn’t realize how long it continued then. Slowly we started seeing each other and asking whether or not any one got injured. Thanks to The Almighty Allah as no one got serious injury though the whole camp was damaged and taken down at ground level. We later on inquired and found nothing lost. No accommodation, no sleep. No communication, no message from battalion HQs. The morning came and we have reestablished the wireless communication with Battalion HQs as well as neighboring other camps. We were busy with own sufferings and have had no time to think as to what might have happened to other parts of CHT or Chittagong area.

We couldn’t cook in the morning as cook house too was completely damaged. Besides, everything were wet and scattered here and there. Some local people came to camp with the information that there would be good catch on the River Chengi due to strong current of water due to rain followed by of previous night’s heavy storm. Big fishes normally move against the strong current of water which swims from Kaptai lake. So, being demoralized totally due to complete destruction of our camp, I thought and allowed if anyone is interested to catch fishes from River Chengi which was flowing touching our camp. In fact Kayangghat army camp, now known to be as Kayangghat Armed Police camp, is located on the bank of River Chengi at the place just opposite to village Kayangghat under Mohalchori Upozila of Khagrachori Hill District.

I was surprised to see that within half an hour few interested soldiers could catch many big fishes which we never saw any one catching earlier. I remember we measured more than 150 Kg fishes for the first catch which really made us forget the storm of previous night. I was remembering that famous saying, “Behind every loss, there is some gain too”. We enjoyed those fresh fishes and also distributed to other nearby camps including Battalion HQs.

Until that time we didn’t know what happened to other part of Chittagong. There was no cell phone communication during those days of CHT. No daily news papers too. We use to watch important news and programs on 14 inch black and white camp private TV using 12 bolts battery. That means, we could watch TV only if there was charge on the battery. For that day, unfortunately battery was not charged and so we couldn’t watch the TV news.

We came to know about serious storm at coastal areas of CHT only after receiving special situation report (SPL SITREP) in the afternoon from Battalion HQs through our own wireless channel and also from old news papers after few days (normally old news papers use to come to camp once in a week during any movement between camp and Battalion HQs).

I could not imagine what worse have had already happened in Chittagong coastal belt, however, after reading old news papers at later stage I could understand though couldn’t believe my eyes. All the big trees around the coastal belt were washed off. Not a single sign of green around. Everything looked wiped off!!! Finally we came to know about the devastating effects, the unbelievable impact which was unimaginable. At least 138,000 people were killed by the storm, with the majority of deaths in the Chittagong coastal areas. Most deaths were from drowning, with the highest mortality among children and the elderly. The storm caused an estimated $1.5 billion (US dollar) in damage, according to news papers. I remember we took about two months time to rebuild the camp which was much better than the condition that was before the damage. We were happy again to receive our higher commanders at the camp and the normalcy started.
The time comes and goes and the old is replaced by new.

The status of Kayangghat army camp is also changed to Kayangghat AP Camp now. People now can talk over cell phone directly from Kayangghat camp to any part of Bangladesh and also can remain updated with the present or latest situation. But gone are those estimated 138,000 people who were washed away during the night between 29 and 30 April 1991. Who knows in which coastal belt their souls are flying now! But to me, after 21 years, this night of 29 Apr 2012 has become very heavy with those past painful memories. It is appearing to me as if those lost souls of victims of devastating tropical cyclone of 29 April 1991 are surrounded around me (or us) with the hope, in case, if me or any one of us can remember them and pray for them for their past presence and past activities. At this point of typing, my fingers have started not continuing any more but forcing me to stop for taking a long breath and pray for those departed souls. May I request my readers to join me to pray for them a little by saying in arabic, “Innalillahi Wainna Ilaihi Rajeun” and also in English, “May The Almighty Allah Bless them with the best Jannath please”.

Having prayed for them, may I also request my readers to convey to government of Bangladesh through their own channel and capacities so that government may take appropriate measures to improve the safety measures in coastal belts of Bangladesh so that Bangladesh never suffers from such big loss of countrymen ever again in future by any such devastating storm in the coastal areas.