On the evening of April 29, 1991, Cyclone Marian (Tropical Cyclone 02B) struck the Chittagong district of southeastern Bangladesh. Approximately 139,000 people were killed and an estimated 10 million became homeless or displaced.
Less than two weeks later, the U.S. organized a contingency joint task force commanded by Marine Lt. Gen. Henry Stackpole, to spearhead humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts to the devastated areas. The operation was dubbed Sea Angel.
“This event is an opportunity to reflect on the strong, multi-decade partnership between Bangladesh and the United States in areas such as disaster relief and humanitarian assistance,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lance E. Jacobsen, the senior defense official and defense attaché to Bangladesh. “We look forward to acknowledging and celebrating the many achievements that have been made over the past 20 years.”
The international disaster relief effort was an unprecedented demonstration of multilateral cooperation, according to Patricia Hill, press and information officer, U.S. Embassy, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
This occasion commemorates a stellar example of U.S. military support provided to a nation in a time of crisis. Stackpole and the 6,700 American service members under his command are credited with saving 200,000 lives and providing medical care to more than two million people, according to Paul A. McCarthy, former logistics officer during Sea Angel.
As part of the commemoration ceremony last week, Marines from 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III MEF, and Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, Marine Support Group 47, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, based in Chicopee, Mass., in coordination with the Government of Bangladesh, conducted an engineering civic action project, where they constructed cyclone shelters near Chittagong from May 4-9.
The U.S. would provide necessary support for Bangladesh to build 130 multi-purpose cyclone shelters in the disaster-prone areas, said James F. Moriarty, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh.
“We have 40 shelters (already) built and in use with over 130 planned in the near future,” he said. “Each shelter would provide classrooms for more than 120 children and house 1,200 people in case of emergency.”
Working alongside the U.S. Marines for the first time was a special experience, said Maj. Muhammad Zakir Hossain, commanding officer of 18th Engineer Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, Bangladesh Army.
“They’re well disciplined, courteous and receptive. I think this is very important for our future operations and continuous relations between the two nations.”
According to the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh, the cooperation among all agencies and between the two governments has been positive and productive.
“During this commemoration we have to remember that this disaster was the foundation of mutual respect and mutual effort, that we went forward and built a solid partnership on,” said Lt. Gen. Duane D. Thiessen, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.
“Bangladesh and the United States enjoy a longstanding relationship marked by cooperation, mutual respect and shared goals,” concluded Moriarty.