World: Highest Mortality due to a Tornado

World: Highest Mortality Due to Lightning

Record Value estimated 1300 individuals
Date of Record 26 / 4 (Apr) 1989
Formal WMO Review Yes
Length of Record 1873 to present
Instrumentation Documented reports;
Geospatial Location Manikganj District, Bangladesh [23.5°N; 90.5°E; elevation: 9m (30ft)]


Cerveny et al. 2017: WMO Assessment of Weather and Climate Mortality Extremes: Lightning, Tropical Cyclones, Tornadoes, and Hail, Climate Weather and Society,


The tornado that destroyed the Manikganj district, Bangladesh: this tornado occurred on 26 April 1989 leaving the towns of Saturia and Manikgank Sadar completely destroyed and about 80,000 people were made homeless. This violent storm injured over 12,000 and purportedly killed a large number of people. The storm struck at around 18:30 local time (12:30 UTC). The tornado cut a long track, up to a mile wide, about 50 miles NW and N of Dhaka. The towns of Salturia and Manikganj were leveled and about 80,000 people were made homeless. In an evaluation of the event, Hossain and Karmakar (1989) noted that “the type of damage, the length and breadth of the path of its travel indicated that the intensity of the tornado was of the order of F3.5 in the Fujita scale and the corresponding wind was calculated around 338-418 km/hr.” A total area of about 150 km2 was impacted by the tornado. Details of the synoptic situation are given in Harman (1971). Accurate death tolls were difficult to obtain but committee members (some with direct access to data for Bangladesh) located several newspapers citing growing death tolls. For example, the New York Times for April 28, 1989 stated (citing the Associated Press) that “A tornado in central Bangladesh killed 600 people, injured 12,000 and devastated more than 20 villages, the Government said today. At least 200 people were reported missing. The tornado Wednesday night blew away people, houses and animals as it whirled through the Manikganj area, 25 miles northwest of Dhaka, the capital.” Other newspapers also report on 27 and 28 April 1989 (Associated Press, The Herald, and a local Bangladesh newspaper) about 500-600 confirmed fatalities (or number of recovered bodies) with at least 200 missing. Later newspaper reports on 30 April and 2 May 1989 (Bangladesh newspaper and Chicago Tribune) estimated an unofficial death toll reaching at least 1000. However, as a committee member noted, the significance of ‘only’ a death toll of 500-600 is that the death toll associated with the infamous 1925 “Tri-State tornado” (traveling from Ellington, MO to Princeton IN) in the United States (Johns et al., 2013) was 695 people, “so to accept the Bangladesh event as a world record we would need to be confident that the number of deaths was greater than that.”

Consequently, the committee scoured the available literature to ascertain the source of the commonly-quoted death toll of 1,300. The most prominent secondary professional source for the Saturia Tornado’s 1300 mortality value is given by noted tornado historian Thomas P. Grazulis (1993, 2001). The committee directly contacted Grazulis and he stated that he believed that he had obtained that value from articles in the London Times. Upon exploration of that newspaper’s archives, committee members located a number of articles relating to the Saturia Tornado. Specifically, a set of articles starting on 28 April 1989 and continuing to 2 May 1989 were all apparently written by the Times correspondent in Bangladesh, Ahmed Fazl. Of particular note, on 2 May, 1989, Fazl wrote in a short Times article: “Storm hits survivors. Dhaka – Thousands of survivors in the devastated town of Shaturia [Saturia] in central Bangladesh passed their fifth night in the open as a fresh storm swept away the few structures left standing after last week’s tornado (Ahmed Fazl writes). Yesterday a convoy of army lorries arrived in the town with supplies to stave off starvation and epidemics. About 1,300 people are thought to have died in the tornado. Some 80,000 people have been living in the open.” As far as can be established, that value cited by Fazl is the best available mortality tally for this event.